Friday, 28 August 2015

My uncle, my Nana, John Noakes and Eddie Waring. Attitudes to dementia have changed


 "You're looking at one ton of rugby – meat, brawn, muscle, brain, the lot of it!"

Eddie Waring 
In February 1991, my grandmother wrote on a piece of paper that "Cecil died" and then lay on the floor and froze to death. She had dementia and nobody around her understood the condition. My grandfather had died a few months before and at least Nana Concon was able to write down her thoughts in some way before she died in that cold snap, almost 25 years ago. My grandparents were of the generation whereby they often didn't have the heating on - they'd lived through the war and were cost-conscious - she probably didn't stand a chance. 

Let's skip to 2015. My uncle has dementia. Hearing about the types of support he gets, you realise that we've come a long way as a society in 25 years. Back then our collective knowledge about dementia seemed to amount to jokes about people always forgetting things and being a bit dopey and 'senile'. That didn't help anyone. Nowadays, the support for my uncle is miles away from the support my Nana had. Or indeed the shameful way that Eddie Waring was treated. 

I got into rugby league when I watched a documentary on Eddie Waring in 2010. And it did mention that he had dementia. Reading the cold language of this Wikipedia page, though, you'd worry that we've really learnt nothing:

"Waring's overall health declined very quickly after his retirement from the commentary box. He was diagnosed with dementia and died at High Royds Hospital in Menston, West Yorkshire in 1986." 

That's right. A mental hospital. That phrase is so out-dated and people with mental health issues look at those old buildings like High Royds (and there's one near me in Friern Barnet) as places that needed to stop doing what they were doing. But also, it was so inappropriate to place Eddie Waring in High Royds. This, despite the fact that a rugby league fan has read this blog and told me that he's heard that the care in High Royds could be very caring and compassionate. 

I quoted Eddie at the start of this blog because he had so many memorable one-liners that made his commentary an essential complement to the action on the field. And he ended his days in High Royds. Despite what I say above about compassionate care, the very mention of the institution brings up horrifying thoughts, not least because it's the title of a song by the Kaiser Chiefs. Some of the band grew up nearby and it had a terrible reputation. My heart breaks when I think what support my uncle gets now and how the rug was pulled out under Eddie Waring; and my Nana. 

A couple of months ago, former Blue Peter presenter John Noakes went missing. John has Alzheimer's and I bet his support is so much better than what was offered to Eddie Waring. And quite right too. 

So my uncle has better support than my Nana did, and John Noakes has a better prospect than Eddie Waring did. I think that’s something to celebrate. But it’s also worth spending some time wondering whether a lack of care about dementia 25 and thirty years ago, is something we should all feel more than uncomfortable about.