It was the funeral of Margaret Thatcher yesterday and whatever your politics her death has raised many issues, some of which hardly seem to have changed for decades.
The event has also raised emotions in a quite unprecedented way. Yet one of the aspects of her life that has received limited coverage is that she suffered from Dementia.
According to CNN Fast facts the symptoms were first noticed in 2000 and there was a public announcement in 2008. Yet there has been almost no press coverage that links her death with the disease nor any about the disease that snatched her once brilliant mind.
There is coverage in the LA Times that talks about the extent of the disease and makes the link with her condition.
One doctor in the article says that it is highly likely that dementia contributed to her death but that there is a reluctance to list this as a cause of death.
The doctor states that the added risk of death that comes with dementia is well documented – among 70-year-old’s who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, 61% are expected to die within a decade. Among 70-year-old’s without Alzheimer’s disease only 30% will die within a decade.
Whatever the truth of her actual cause of death and the role dementia played, I feel it may have been helpful to many families around the world who live with dementia as part of their lives, either as a sufferer or carers, to have her disease acknowledged.
For Margaret Thatcher this was a period of her life that lasted longer than that of being Prime Minister. Whilst I respect her privacy, a little acknowledgement would go a long way to lift some of the discomfort people feel about the disease. It is certainly a disease we are going to come across more and more. Some reports say the number of people with dementia will double over the next 30 years.
The film, The Iron Lady, has been criticised for showing this aspect of Margaret Thatcher’s life. In the film she is depicted as having delusions of Dennis, her husband; talking to him, taking advice from him and generally still using him as a support even though he is dead.
For those of us whose parents suffer from dementia we know it is not easy for them. There is often still some awareness that they are not as they were and for Mrs Thatcher this must have been terrible, as of course it is for everyone who suffers.
It seems to me that by not acknowledging this aspect of her life it belittles her fight with it and that of many others. It leaves the disease as one we continue to sweep under the carpet even as the numbers grow and more and more minds are snatched by dementia.