Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Thatcher Film Offers Chance to End the Taboo of Dementia'; THE POLITICAL INTERVIEW

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Thatcher Film Offers Chance to End the Taboo of Dementia'; THE POLITICAL INTERVIEW

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Murphy talks to mental healthcare minister Paul Burstow

ABOUT 40,000 Londoners are suffering from dementia without realising that they have the condition, the government minister in charge of mental healthcare reveals today. Many face "a miserable life" of increasing isolation because of a taboo that discourages friends and relatives from telling them they need help, said Paul Burstow.

"Families don't broach the issue, despite often making cryptic remarks about how 'dad's getting a bit forgetful' or 'he doesn't know where the car keys are'," he told the Evening Standard.

"It is a tragedy because if we knew who they are then we could help them."

It is a deeply unfashionable topic, but one that has become a dinner party talking point because of the award-winning movie The Iron Lady.

While David Cameron criticised Meryl Streep's portrayal of a frail and forgetful Margaret Thatcher, Mr Burstow sees the controversy as a chance to haul the growing epidemic "out of the shad-ows". He said: "Some people have said the movie is despicable and outrageous but I can't help but think that if it makes people more aware and less fearful of dementia -- and makes them understand that this disease can strike any one of us -- then it's a good thing.

"Cancer used to be the disease that people didn't want to talk about, but it has come out of the shadows in recent years and people are more up-front about it.

"Dementia has taken its place. It is the stigma that comes with it. We now know that people in their fifties fear dementia most of all -- more than cancer even."

The figures he reels off point to a huge iceberg of a problem lying below the surface of London society. The Health Department estimates that 65,000 Londoners have dementia, of which 26,000 are being treated.

That means six in 10 sufferers have never talked to their doctor about it and probably do not know. Most are elderly, but a small number are in their thirties or forties.

Diagnosis rates vary wildly between London care trusts, with Newham and Islington identifying well over half their local victims, while Barking & Dagenham identifies just 28 per cent.

"That means there are an awful lot of people who frankly are having a miserable life and when things go wrong for them, they might go into hospital, receive poorer care and stay in hospital longer. It's a huge issue."

Although there is no cure, sufferers can be helped to get back in control of their lives and plan for the disease's progression.

Mr Burstow, the Sutton & Cheam MP, wants London to become the first capital in the world to be recognised as a "dementia-friendly city" -- where shops, Tube stations, superstores and cinemas train staff to help confused people.

"In York, there is an Asda that meets and greets people. …

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