Saturday 25 January 2014

Dementia – Can it? Should it? Will it? Be defined as terminal?

Dementia is generally described as either ‘life-limiting’ or ‘life-shortening’, either way, the illness or condition, is ‘life-changing’!

We often hear a lot about people sustaining life-changing injuries, but we rarely hear about dementia being described in such a way.

My Mother has vascular dementia, although she is, admittedly, now 87. Whichever way you look at it - and it is something I have to accept, she is now of such an age, that end of life is never far away - her younger brother, by comparison, died some years ago, as a result of Alzheimer’s.

Mum and younger brother Gordon, before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's

Taking into account, the apparent historical longevity, of some members of that side of the family - their Great Grandmother lived until her late eighties, in the nineteenth century, when life expectancy, especially among poor agricultural working families, was considerably less than today - had my Uncle not contracted Alzheimer’s, he would probably still be alive today!

So, we once more address that simple question – “is dementia terminal?”

Numerous medical professionals would be quick to point out, that someone rarely dies, as a direct result of dementia. Few death certificates record the death of a dementia sufferer (I have deliberately used the term sufferer in this case), as dementia. There are usually other factors involved, in many cases, pneumonia. Therefore, it is very difficult to obtain statistics for deaths, directly or indirectly, related to dementia. Yet, pneumonia often occurs because the person concerned is bedridden and immobile, due to dementia. Although the primary cause of death may well be pneumonia, the primary reason they contracted pneumonia, was dementia!

Dementia, whichever way we look at it, ultimately leads to death, as does life itself. Should dementia be classified as terminal? Or, is it a case of, ‘well that’s what happens when a lot of people get older’. But is it? There are many cases of early onset dementia, sometimes affecting people in their twenties! That is not an older person’s illness!

Dementia, in its many various, many still to be defined, forms, can strike at any point in our lives. That we perceive dementia as being an older person’s illness - needs to be addressed, and corrected.
Dementia is, life-limiting, life-shortening, and life-changing, and in all cases, it is ultimately terminal. Dementia is in effect, a death sentence. There is only one guaranteed outcome.

Cancer was, for many years, regarded as a terminal illness, and some forms still are, many, however, are now survivable. We have yet to reach that stage with dementia. Dementia is, and will be for the foreseeable future, terminal. There is no cure, and the ultimate outcome, is death.

It is time to accept, take our heads out of the sand, and realise, that dementia is, at present, a terminal illness. There is no way out, there is no cure. Those with dementia may well live for many years, but the illness will, eventually, kill them.

Cancer and heart disease, cost nations billions of pounds/dollars, dementia alone, costs even more! Yet, funding into research for a cure, or at the very least a life extending/improving solution is, but a mere fraction of that, for the other major illnesses. Time for change!

I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of the elderly residents of Residence du Havre, L'Isle-Verte, Quebec, Canada, a care home for seniors, of whom 32 are feared to have perished in the terrible fire that occurred there on 23 January 2014. My thoughts and prayers go out to their families, at this very sad and difficult time.

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