Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Kevin Whately is one of the most appreciated actors of British television for his roles in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, Inspector Morse, Peak Practice and of course, Lewis. But with this episode of ITV1's current affairs programme Tonight produced and directed by Linsey Wynton, Whately shares with us a personal concern in an inspired documentary about dementia. A subject the actor knows too well: his mother, Mary (aged 83) was diagnosed with the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer's disease, eight years ago.

The term "dementia" is used to describe the symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by specific diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, stroke and many other rarer conditions (http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents.php?categoryID=200131). Kevin Whately believes passionately that it is important to raise awareness about dementia and its potential effects on society. But also to ensure that people suffering with dementia get much better treatment and care. In the UK 700 000 people live with dementia. Probably about 400 000 to 450 000 of these people have Alzheimer's disease. One in three people over the age of 65 will die with the disease and by 2025 more than a million will have dementia.

Alzheimer's disease results from a build-up of toxic proteines on the brain that causes nerve cells to die and the brain to shrink. Stroke related dementia - sometimes called vascular dementia, the second most common cause of dementia, occurs when nerve cells die because of the lack of oxygen. It is often following a stroke. Both provoke memory loss, particularly of the short-term memory, and confusion.

Three years ago, Kevin Whately's mother became very ill and, after a stay in hospital, the family had to move her to a nursing home because she was no longer able to cope with living on her own. Sadly she's now in an advanced condition and could not take part in the ITV programme. For the Tonight doc, Kevin Whately's brother Frank remembers when he first noticed that their mother was losing her memory, and the brothers discuss how they had to face the progression of her condition on a daily basis.

It took a few years to get Mary Whately diagnosed but about two-thirds of those having dementia have no diagnosis. British Government has launched in February a National Dementia Strategy backed by £150 million over the first two years, and wants to set up a Memory Clinic in every town. Kevin Whately visits one of these clinics, Newbury Memory Service in Berkshire, where a woman has her memory tested with a series of 19 questions after evaluation by a doctor and a clinical psychologist. Unfortunately, she's diagnosed with both Alzheimer's and Lewy Bodies dementia - the third most common form of Dementia, which bears some similarities to Parkinson’s disease.

Diagnosis is primordial. There's no cure for dementia but anti-dementia drugs Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl can improve or stabilize the symptoms of the disease in about 50% of cases. But since November 2006 NHS doctors have been banned from prescribing these drugs to thousands of patients newly diagnosed with Alzheimer's by the National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence (NICE) because "benefits don't justify costs". Kevin Whately meets a patient with Alzheimer's, Keith Turner, who got prescribed Aricept prior to the ban and so receives it free on the NHS (£900 a year/£2,50 a day). His wife and him are now campaigning for others to have the same access (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/youandyours/transcripts_2006_23_mon_02.shtml). Later this year NICE will review its cost calculations and consider whether to review its guidance.

During the filming of the Tonight programme, Whately discovered that there is a therapy called SPECAL (Specialised Early Care for Alzheimer's) which carers can use to make communication easier with patients with dementia (http://www.specal.co.uk/). Admiral Nurses, specialist dementia nurses, can also be of a great source of help and support (http://www.fordementia.org.uk/admiral.htm). Journalist and broadcaster John Suchet (David Suchet's brother) tells Kevin Whately about the precious help he has from Ian Weatherhead, an Admiral Nurse, in caring for his wife Bonnie for dementia. There's only 60 Admiral Nurses in the UK, funded by the NHS and local councils.

The documentary also introduces us to Music therapy, which calls to the part of the brain not yet deteriorated, and the work of Singing for the Brain (http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/singingforthebrain). Reminiscence Therapy, recalling memories ("the good old days") can have therapeutic benefits for people with dementia. And Kevin Whately talks about the importance of finding a decent care home when comes the time, and the illogism that people with dementia has to pay themselves for their care.

Kevin Whately on Dementia is a programme which is the honour of every person involved in its conception, or interviewed, for its clarity and its constructive approach of one of the main health issues of the century. Kevin Whately, who is ambassador for the Alzheimer's Society, shares his concerns and his experience with humility, generosity, and empathy. The programme and its production team deserve to be awarded and it is not unreasonable to believe that Mr Whately should have his own current affairs series.


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