" Early intervention for Alzheimer's sufferers"

About: North East London NHS Foundation Trust North East London NHS Foundation Trust / Older people's mental health

(as a relative),

I took my father to Groveland Day Hospital in January 2010. He is 90 years of age and suffering from very poor short term memory, and was referred to the memory clinic at the hospital by his GP following concerns raised by the family about his deteriorating mental faculties.

First impressions of the hospital were that it was clean bright and spacious with a pleasant waiting area in the large open entrance hall/reception area. Even my father commented how nice it was by comparison to other NHS facilities he had visited.

We were very quickly introduced to the Memory Clinic Nurse who apologised that the results from his ECG taken at King George Hospital 10 days earlier had not yet been sent to the Grovelands (even though KG hospital is very close by). The nurse quickly gave my father an ECG test but had some difficulties configuring the test equipment because, perhaps surprisingly to me, she told us she had not previously carried out an ECG for someone fitted with a Pace maker.

Immediately after the test we were asked to go to the consultant's room and met with the consultant who was accompanied by a student doctor. My father had previously had a memory test performed at his GP surgery by experts from the North East London Trust, as a consequence, and by reference to the latest ECG and blood test results, the Consultant was able to give her diagnosis directly.

She explained very carefully to my father that he was suffering from Senile Dementia, which is common in people of his age, and that the technical name for the condition was Alzheimer's disease. She commented to me that his problems were not as a direct result of deterioration in his cardiovascular system affecting blood supply to the brain as the ECG and blood tests were good for someone of his age, but the disease was due to toxic build up of a particular protein in the brain. His memory decline was not reversible but the rate of further deterioration, which is inevitable, can be reduced in some patients by treatment with a drug called Aricept.

The Consultant gave me and my father a booklet about Aricept which we agreed to read carefully before considering getting a prescription for the drug. My father's biggest concern was about any potential side effects of the drug reducing his ability to drive a car. He has led a very independent life style for many years since my mother died in 1983, and living alone he relies totally on his car to carry out all the essentials of modern life as he is unable to walk distances. The Consultant was very sympathetic and told him that his driving skills are not directly affected as they are based on long term memory, and she would support his continuing to drive whilst under treatment with Aricept, subject to regular evaluation.

For me, perhaps the most useful outcome of the discussion with the Consultant was her proposal for us to meet with the local representative from Age Concern dealing with early intervention for Alzheimer's sufferers, who was fortunately visiting the hospital at the time. She recognises that as my father's condition deteriorates he will need more support on a day-by-day basis, and given that I live over 60 miles away, local support will become very important indeed. We went directly from the consultant's room to meet with the Age Concern Nurse/Carer and had a very useful talk. My father is reluctant to accept help from anyone he does not know well or recognise so building up this trust is vitally important. We agreed that in the near future I should arrange for the Age Concern nurse to visit my father at his home, but when I am also there.

In summary, I expect the my father's situation is not uncommon amongst those at his age, and that with increasing life expectancy there will be many more who suffer similar circumstances. So it is encouraging that the North East London NHS Trust is able to work with outside agencies like Age Concern to help deal sympathetically with families in these difficult circumstances. I hope that my father is able to live at home for as long as possible with the support of the Trust and other services as I've experienced disturbing conditions and poor treatment in the care home my mother-in-law was staying in before she died.

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