Last year as part of her GCSE Spoken English endorsement, Emily D in Year 11 wrote and performed this powerful speech on dementia. With absolute sincerity, clarity and sophistication, Emily explains the struggles faced by those suffering from dementia, as well as their loved ones. She is empathetic and emotional, but her facts and well-detailed research shed the greatest light on the impact of dementia on people – young and old. This was such a moving speech and we are grateful that Emily has allowed us to share it with you all.
As we experience another lockdown, Mrs Williams is going to run the distance of a marathon over the month of November to raise money for dementia nurses as part of #doyoudistancefordementianurses. The work that dementia nurses do is absolutely vital, now more than ever.
If you would like to donate to the cause please click here to visit Mrs Williams’ JustGiving page, and do take a moment to read Emily’s speech.
“Imagine waking up one morning and not being able to remember the name of your own child or spouse. How would you feel if you suddenly had no idea where you were, how you got there, or how long you’d been there? And what if you weren’t even aware that all of this was happening? For the fifty million dementia patients across the world, this is the sad reality. The disease has been stigmatised and disregarded as simple memory loss that comes with old age, but as the average life expectancy increases and the population climbs with it, it is imperative that we raise awareness and fund dementia research. Dementia isn’t just losing your memory; it’s losing your life.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines dementia as ‘a mental disorder marked by memory failures and an inability to think clearly’ which, although simplified, is accurate. However, ‘memory failures’ does not only refer to the loss of memories, but the inability to make new ones. Although these are the most common symptoms, other effects include difficulty concentrating, difficulty performing day-to-day tasks, struggles with speech or following conversation, confusion regarding time and place, and mood changes. All of these combined make it difficult for a person to think clearly and live a normal life, even if it is simply doing the same things they have always done: tasks they could have done with their eyes closed before. There are over four hundred types of dementia that have been discovered, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Both have specific symptoms – people with Alzheimer’s may suffer more anxiety and become confused in their speech, whilst those with vascular dementia may experience stroke-like symptoms including muscle weakness or temporary paralysis and movement problems. To make matters worse, it is possible to get both at the same time, called mixed dementia. Additionally, the memory loss that comes with dementia is seemingly random. There have been reported cases of immigrants who have lived in Britain since childhood, speaking English, developing dementia and reverting back to only speaking their first language. My grandmother, though she was unable to remember her own relatives when sat beside them, was able to sing songs she learnt in the Second World War, when she would have been ten to sixteen years old.
Of course, the effects of dementia are not limited to just the parents. Family members and friends suffer equally with the disease – an outside observer can see the deterioration of the patient when they are often unable to see it themselves. Unfortunately, I know this all too well as my family struggled with the effects of dementia for roughly ten years, ever since my grandmother developed it after a lengthy stay in hospital in 2010. I was only four at the time, so I never knew my grandmother any other way, yet the entire process was much more taxing on my parents and sisters who knew her well beforehand. Initially, it was the little things like names that changed. She used to call me only Emily or her nickname for me – Titch – but at some point she began to use the names of my sisters, correcting herself until she got to my name. Eventually she stopped knowing my name altogether. The name John (who is her son) became the name of any man and it was difficult to tell whether she meant her son, brother, father, or even husband when talking about John. In fact, I believe the only person whose name she really knew most of the time was her daughter, my mother. Sadly, our experience is representative of countless other families whose parents or grandparents are experiencing the same thing. In fact, eight hundred and fifty thousand people in the UK have dementia and that number is expected to rise to one point six million by 2040. With one person developing dementia every three minutes, it will soon be an even bigger issue.
It is also important to understand that dementia can affect anyone – there is no immunity, no matter what kind of life a person has led, there is always a vulnerability for developing the disease. For example, Barbara Windsor was a famous actress for many years and would have spent hours memorising lines for thousands of people to hear. She was diagnosed with dementia in 2014, meaning that even though she spent her career remembering words, her memory still deteriorated. Now she campaigns for more funding for dementia research, appealing to the public to, in her words, ‘make a stand against dementia’. Margaret Thatcher, ex-Prime Minister, delivered many speeches throughout her career, participated in debates, and made monumental decisions for the country, but she was diagnosed with dementia and died with it in 2013. All this shows that no matter what you have done in your lifetime, when dementia strikes it can all be erased, and that is a terrifying thought.
Thankfully, there is help available, both for dementia patients and their families. Dementia UK provides information, advice, and support, such as teaching better communication skills so dementia patients can still communicate well. The Alzheimer’s Society is dedicated to support and the research of dementia in the hope that a cure may one day be found, as well as better treatments. Both organisations are doubtlessly fundamental in the fight against dementia, but they are also charities. To run, they rely on donations. Without awareness of the disease, donations will be minimal. If either of these charities were to shut down, dementia research would slow down immensely and those already struggling with the disease would suffer even more.
One question remains: what can we, as a community, do? Firstly, education from a young age is critical for achieving a world where dementia can be cured. If nothing else, educating a younger generation brings acceptance and understanding of the disease. Other techniques can be used to teach older generations about dementia, such as dementia sense experiences which mimic the experiences of a demented person’s day-to-day life to provide an insight into the awful reality of the disease. Another way to aid dementia research is simply to donate to charities. That way, we can continue the support of patients and families and keep improving treatments so that one day a cure might be available.
To conclude, there are plenty of ways we can help dementia patients and fight the disease. However, little is being done due to the stigma which assumes it is only memory loss. I hope I have shown you that it is, in reality, so much more. With healthcare improving every day, the life expectancy rises too, meaning there will be more dementia patients and the disease will damage more families. These people will desperately need support, but if there is not enough awareness about the disorder, how can we expect that help to come? This must change. And so, I leave you with my opening sentiment in the hope that it may urge you to contribute to our fight: Dementia isn’t just losing your memory; it’s losing your life.