Dementia: care today, cure tomorrow
Charity partners Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK will be instrumental in involving people living with dementia in the work of the new £250m MRC-led UK Dementia Research Institute. Here Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador Keith Oliver shares his hopes for how the new institute will make life better for people with dementia, now and tomorrow.
My world changed in 2010 when I was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 55. My early symptoms were falling over, an element of reduced concentration and being unable to follow things as well as I did previously.
I went to the GP thinking I’d got an ear infection and was sent for an MRI scan. When I had an appointment with a neurologist to discuss the scan he said, totally out of the blue, that it looked like the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. After attending a memory clinic for around four months of quite intensive testing and assessments I received a diagnosis.
I see a consultant psychiatrist every four months who, coincidentally, I taught when I was a primary school teacher. I used to care for him 27 years ago and now he cares for me, which is rather nice. He’s been monitoring my medication, called galantamine, with my GP. I received a course of psychotherapy which then led to cognitive behaviour therapy to do with the double-edged sword of depression and dementia, which I’ve experienced for the first time in the last two years.
Getting involved in different groups and activities allows me to see things from other people’s perspectives. As an ex head teacher I bring to the table many years of both chairing and serving on groups, and leading big staff organisations where it wasn’t about me, it was about other people. So when it comes to things like research I come into it thinking what’s in it for people with dementia. I want to try and retain that for as long as I possibly can.
Being an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society gives me a sense of purpose in life and is an incredibly useful therapy. I’m very proud of the role and I feel I get as much from it as I give. As one of about 270 lay people in their research network, including carers, former carers and a few people with a diagnosis of dementia, I’m part of a panel that make recommendations to the research board of the society about what research should be funded, based on the views of the wider network. I focus my energies on the care and wellbeing aspect.
The Alzheimer’s Society uses the phrase ‘Care today, cure tomorrow’. We know a cure isn’t going to arrive tomorrow but we’re all focused on hoping to achieve one by 2025. Care projects allow people like me, and there are many hundreds of thousands of people like me, to live better today in order to still be here when tomorrow arrives. The UK Dementia Research Institute has the potential to achieve that, I hope.
I know that there are some extremely talented researchers working in dementia research but there are simply not enough. I feel that this potentially very significant institute will go a long way towards attracting, recruiting, retaining and then celebrating the successes of those involved in dementia research at all levels.
I can see the parallels there with my head teacher role. You’re bringing in new talent and utilising existing talent in order to make life better for people with dementia now and tomorrow. We all want a cure, and as soon as possible. Alongside this I’m pleased to know that research into effective care for those living with, and affected by, dementia will be firmly included in the centre’s work.
It’s great to see the government, charities, the research community and key universities about to work together to bring about this exciting venture. I’m thrilled and excited and would love to still be around to add the expression of ‘delighted’ when its potentials are realised. So at the moment I’m thrilled and excited but I’m not yet delighted, until I’m here to see the results of its success.
As told to Isabel Baker