My visit to Mum last week was preceded by a Dementia Friends session in Coventry. I told Mum all about it but, as far as I could tell, my words meant nothing to her. Mum was always interested in raising awareness of conditions or issues which were below the radar – I remember a lecture she gave to me some years ago about prostate cancer. I’m sure the old Mum would have been energised by a campaign like Dementia Friends.
This Dementia Friends session itself was an unusual one. I’d been invited by a community group made up almost entirely of Asian women. It’s the first time I’d ever needed an interpreter which slowed the presentation down a little but the session was lively and, I think, well received.
According to the latest figures available, dementia is increasing faster in BAME communities than the rest of the population. There’s no explanation of why this might be but the statistics underline the importance of reaching out to everyone in the United Kingdom.
Dementia doesn’t discriminate. While diet and activity are important for people living with dementia, there’s no direct link between lifestyle choices and diagnoses of dementia. Take Mum. She never smoked, was fastidious about a balanced diet, rarely stood still for long and her alcohol intake was restricted to a glass of sherry before Sunday lunch. For many years, she played squash and racquetball, neither to international standard but then who am I to talk? (My squash career ended in 1988 when I smashed by racket in a wildly immature fit of pique at being thrashed for the umpteenth week in a row in the international sporting arena of Gillingham Football Club).
But I digress. Mum also loved the challenge of a crossword. She did everything to keep her mind and body fit and healthy and yet, she has dementia. Proof, if it were needed, that we’re all in this together.
So dementia doesn’t discriminate but we, as a society, do. We discriminate against people living with dementia and their carers. It isn’t a medical condition, when it comes to paying for care, and so many people touched by the disease – those living with it and their carers alike – are impoverished and alienated.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer proudly proclaimed this morning that he’d identified ways in which he will make £12 billion pounds of welfare cuts. That’s 12 billion. Let us remind ourselves what “welfare” means. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition is “…the health, happiness and fortunes of a person or group…” . Will the most deserving in society, including those whose lives are profoundly affected by dementia, be healthier or happier after Wednesday’s budget? I’m not holding my breath.