War on dementia akin to moon landing mission

The biggest medical challenge of them all? Daily blogger Peter Rhodes on why curing dementia could take longer than putting a man on the moon.

David Gethin’s photo of the moon
David Gethin’s photo of the moon

IT TOOK me 10 days to get an appointment to see any doctor at my surgery. It took a friend 23 days to get an appointment to see her own GP. The good news is that while we were waiting, we both got better. NHS crisis – what crisis?

AND off to yet another carol service. This one was led by a woman vicar, something so normal that we barely notice it. But stop and think. We are a few weeks away from the 20th anniversary of the Church of England ordaining its first female priests in 1994. In that brief time the Church has become thoroughly feminised. Today, more women than men are becoming priests and the first woman bishop will be along any time now. I can see the priesthood going the same way as primary-school teaching, to become a profession so dominated by women that men will become a rarity. Just as we have male nurses and male models, we will start using the term “male vicar.”

DAVID Cameron says the developed world could produce a cure for dementia within 12 years. And how many of us, 12 years from now, will remember his words?

OFFICIALLY, the main cause of dementia is our increasing lifespan. Yet how can that account for the tidal wave of Alzheimer's and other brain-affecting conditions threatening to bury the NHS? It certainly can't explain the increase in early-onset dementia seen in people aged under 65. Remember those panicky days in the late 1980s when BSE, mad-cow disease, erupted and some scientists were claiming this terrifying disease could cross from cattle to humans? Back then the food expert Professor Richard Lacey famously forecast: “If our worst fears are realized we could virtually lose a generation of people.”

LACEY was roundly rubbished and the BSE threat seems to have gone away. But at various times, other researchers claim to have found a link between dementia and excess alcohol, raised blood pressure, high cholesterol, mobile phones, fluoride in the water, high blood sugar and mercury fillings in our teeth. We live in a complex and most unnatural world, and the fact that so many potential cause of dementia have been proposed reveals how little the experts really know. President Kennedy gave his top scientists 10 years to put a man on the moon. The timetable for beating dementia is two years longer. That's how vast the challenge is.

YOU might imagine that the freedom to read, to learn, to educate ourselves, is absolute basic in a modern society. Apparently not. Our ancient judicial system seem quite unable to deal with anything as informative as the internet. The Law Commission is seriously proposing a new criminal offence to punish any juror who carries out internet research on a case on which they are sitting. The aim is to preserve the centuries-old game where everyone in court knows that Norman Stanley Fletcher is an habitual criminal, except the jury. The right of a silver-tongued defence lawyer to portray Norm as a thoroughly decent chap outweighs the right of a juror to go online and discover the truth. M'learned friends will at some stage have to accept that the internet changes everything and that trying to keep anyone, including jurors, away from it, is the legal equivalent of trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle.

THE song list at our latest carol concert included a jolly number on the joys of making a Christmas pudding, to the tune of that bouncy old Neapolitan song Funiculi, Funicula. I was racking my brains to remember where, many years ago, I had heard that same tune set to different lyrics. I suddenly recalled it was a particularly crude rugby song on the subject of self-abuse. Very dangerous game, very dodgy songs.

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Comments for: "War on dementia akin to moon landing mission"


Re Judicial System

I can appreciate that the internet has given an added dimension to jury trials which will be quite difficult to control. The problem lies in your sentence "...where everyone in court knows that Norman Stanley Fletcher is an habitual criminal..." Two issues arise.

Norman may be an habitual criminal but this does not mean he is guilty in this particular case. He is not the only habitual criminal in Britain and it may well be another Norman who has committed the crime.

The internet may give details of Norman which are incorrect and taken as facts when it is not the case.

I would suggest that the internet makes the case for the abolition of jury trials and moves to a system of three judges trying the case like in the magistrates court. Judges are professionals who know that court hearings require a dispassionate view, are not swayed by "silver-tongued defence lawyers, do not have to be told when to consider or ignore evidence and are experienced in sifting issues into relevant and irrelevant.

Justice for the accused would probably be better served in these circumstance than with a jury trial.