Ageing well: becoming a world leader in tackling dementia and Alzheimer’s

46 min listen

With cases of neurodegenerative conditions rising in the UK, it’s crucial to re-examine how we tackle these diseases. The Spectator’s assistant editor Isabel Hardman speaks to Debbie Abrahams MP (co-chair of the Dementia APPG), Dr Emily Pegg (associate vice president at Eli Lilly), Dr Susan Kohlhaas (executive director at Alzheimer’s Research), and Professor Giovanna Mallucci (principal investigator at the Cambridge Institute of Science). Eli Lilly and Company has provided sponsorship funding to support this event, and has had no influence over the content of the event or selection of speakers

Watch three irascible women screaming at each other: Anthropology, at Hampstead Theatre, reviewed

Anthropology is a drama about artificial intelligence that starts as an ultra-gloomy soap opera. A suicidal lesbian, Merril, speaks on the phone to her kid sister, Angie, and they discuss Merril’s beautiful ex-girlfriend. After ten minutes, we learn that Angie’s voice belongs to a robot, Digital Angie, created by Merril to replicate the real Angie who vanished a year earlier in unexplained circumstances. Then another surprise. Digital Angie becomes self-aware and turns into a detective who offers to help Merril investigate Angie’s disappearance and to find out if she’s still alive. Angie then turns into a third character who tries to interfere with Merril’s social life. This digital bully sends

What my father’s Alzheimer’s taught me

When I tell friends, ‘You never hear people talking about the upside of Alzheimer’s’, they look at me like I’ve said something about Hitler being nice to animals. In general, a mention of dementia will ruin any conversation. People freeze up at the thought. It’s true that having a relative with dementia is hard and the bad far outweighs the good, but that is no reason to ignore the positives completely. In fact, the tiny benefits can help you deal with all the downsides.  I’ve had a lot of time to look for the positives. Growing up, my grandparents had Alzheimer’s so I was aware of the condition, but I hadn’t

Tucci and Firth are like Eric and Ernie but sexier: Supernova reviewed

At the time Supernova went into production one headline read: ‘What did we do to deserve a love story starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci?’ Something right, I suppose. This is an intense, intimate, spare film about love, grief and dementia, and the two leads, who play a gay couple, are superb. There is now the argument that gay roles should be played solely by gay actors but, my heavens, you can’t deny this pair look irresistibly adorable tucked up in bed together. Like Eric and Ernie, but with a sexier vibe. Tucci, Firth, a lovely dog and top-class jumpers? We must have done something stupendously right Tucci and Firth

Godot Is a Woman will have you laughing all evening and arguing all night

Godot Is a Woman opens with three tramps standing on a bare stage beneath a solitary upright. This isn’t Samuel Beckett’s famous drama about a pair of vagrants, Vladimir and Estragon, who wait in vain for a mysterious visitor. This is a spoof in which a trio of actors (two female, one non-binary) seek a licence to perform the script that Beckett insisted must be played by male actors only. The upright prop is a telephone box and the thesps are trying to get through to the Beckett estate. They’re answered by a robotic female voice. ‘You are 9,124th in the call queue.’ A burst of inane lift music fills

Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of dementia will undo you: The Father reviewed

The Father is an immensely powerful film about dementia starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, who was asleep in his bed in Wales when his Best Actor Oscar was announced, so we’ll never know if his outfit would have been a hit or a miss. Shall we give him the benefit of the doubt and say ‘hit’? Either way, he is absolutely remarkable here. I read the screenplay, available online, out of curiosity, and what he brings to the words on the page is beyond and beyond and beyond. Hopkins has played King Lear (twice) but this is his real King Lear. What Hopkins brings to the words on the page is

The myriad signatures of a canine pissoir

Sally (la Sal, the Salster) is part whippet, part Labrador and part dormouse. She is 16 years old, stone deaf, three-quarters blind and has dementia. She sleeps like the dead all day but loves her evening walk. We’ve decided that for as long as she enjoys her walks and remains continent indoors we’ll delay taking her to the vet and asking him to put her light out. ‘We’re talking about you,’ I shout at her after we’ve had a review because the dementia has become more obvious. No response. Deaf as a post. ‘You’re on borrowed time, sweetheart,’ I say, lifting her ear to speak into her head. No response.

The truth about rugby is hard to admit for fans like me

The Six Nations begins today, bringing joy into the hearts of millions of rugby fans. It will, as ever, be a predictably unpredictable tournament – there are always upsets – which will showcase great athletic skill, close teamwork and raw physical courage; and like the first snowdrops, it is one of those reliable harbingers of spring guaranteed to lighten the gloom of cheerless February days. But this year, hovering in the background, is a spectre at the feast; the fast-accumulating evidence that rugby is a danger to the players’ health and well-being. The truth is that many rugby spectators, who love the game, end up feeling guilty. Celebrating a huge

Looking for love: Ghosts, by Dolly Alderton

Of all the successful modern female writers documenting their search for love, none has been as endearing as Dolly Alderton. Candace Bushnell’s alter ego Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City was too brash, perma-groomed and designer-clad. Liz Jones is vulnerable and self-effacingly funny, but her low self esteem and anorexia ring my ‘needs therapy’ alarm, and she too seems bizarrely materialistic. Alderton, though, is the kind of woman every woman wants as a friend. Not only was her first book, the memoir Everything I Know About Love, unfiltered in its honesty about heartache, it was also a warm paean to friendship, with its eternal goldmine of emotional intelligence, conversations

My mother — as I remember her best

Nine cups of milky Nescafé Gold Blend a day; a low-tar cigarette smouldering; a hot-water-bottle always on her lap; the Times crossword almost completed at the Formica table; knitting on the go; and novels — she always read the last page first. She was one of that generation of women who didn’t go to university but were incredibly well-read and knew poems by heart. This was Kathleen, the mother of Nicholas Royle, novelist and professor of English at Sussex University. In a remarkable and moving memoir he has captured and preserved a loving, kind, impatient woman — and perhaps, with her, all of our mothers in the sweet predictability of

Jan Morris, at 93, meditates on what it means to be old

‘I’m getting rather tired of me,’ begins Jan Morris in one of the diary entries in Thinking Again, almost certainly the writer and journalist’s last book. She is only half kidding. This collection of essays and whimsical daily musings — a sequel to 2018’s In My Mind’s Eye — is both a deep dive into the charming and erudite mind of Morris, now 93, and also a moving meditation on just what it means to be old. Morris was launched to fame in 1953 when, as James Morris, she was the first journalist to report on Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reaching the summit of Mount Everest. She experienced a

Letters: Should conservatives be worried that high-spending Boris has a majority?

My father’s imprisonment Sir: Harald Maass’s piece on the plight of Uyghurs in China (‘A cultural genocide’, December 14) captures the grim reality of what has been happening. Articles like this draw vital attention to the crisis. I am an ethnic Uyghur and live in Belgium with my wife and children. My father, a 58-year-old secondary school teacher from Xinjiang, was jailed in China in April 2018. No reason was provided by the authorities as to why, and there was no trial or any other legal procedure. He was obviously imprisoned just because he is a Uyghur. After 18 months in prison, he was finally released recently and is at

Wisdom of the ages: we must keep listening to the elderly

My beloved grandmother died at 90, and my mother at 89, after having Alzheimer’s for 11 years. So I am not rattled by the old; I find their memory lapses challenging rather than frightening. (If I were the full-time carer of an elderly husband, it might be another matter. One woman described it as being strangled slowly by a python.) I recently visited 96-year-old Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, former columnist, journalist and editor of the Sunday Telegraph, at his house in Bucks. In May, his wife (writer Lucinda Lambton) and a kind Croatian carer were present. This time, the two of us were alone for three hours. Perhaps this made it

A frank description of dementia is a searing, suffocating read

In Annie Ernaux’s The Years — her extraordinary act of collective autobiography —the ‘I’ disappears. Her memoir becomes the memoir of France since the war: each year of the author’s life is evoked in a collage of memories, images and historical fragments. Apart from a handful of photographs, in which Ernaux is the dispassionately observed ‘she’, the self is erased and in its place an ambiguous ‘we’ narrates the flow of years and the slippage of time. In I Remain in Darkness, the ‘I’ is everywhere, yet it is still a treacherous word. In this work of shocking honesty and intimacy, Ernaux bears witness to her mother’s final years of

Letters | 13 June 2019

The benefits of indecision Sir: Belgium has often been without a government for months on end without suffering any economic collapse. In Britain in recent decades governments with large majorities and led by ideologically driven prime ministers have made disastrous decisions on welfare reform, foreign policy and selling off social housing. Isabel Hardman is correct to say that ‘decisions are needed to solve problems that have festered for years’ (‘The in-tray of horrors’, 8 June). However her analysis should also consider the benefits of government paralysis: the damage that has been avoided because superficial and ill-thought-out policies never saw the light of day. Ivor Morgan Lincoln A doctor writes Sir:

Diary – 6 June 2019

Don’t you just love garden centres? You have to be mad to go on a sunny Sunday morning in the full bedding-out season but all human life is there, enjoying the full English breakfast or even kippers. They sell everything — sofas, lamps, barbecues, waterfalls, bread, toys, meat, mountaineering gear. Oh, and plants and Growmore and those little windmill things. I went to buy extra geraniums and lobelia because it is a truth universally acknowledged that whenever you buy far more than you can possibly need for your pots, those pots expand when you turn your back. It was a gladiatorial clash of trolleys, and I trampled on several old

The upsides of dementia

My 91-year-old father-in-law has always had a terror of hospitals. This dates from his time as a Royal Marine when, just after the second world war, he was infected with polio by a contaminated needle. The first he knew of it was when a visiting dignitary came on board ship and he was unable to lift his arm in salute. Ever since, he made it very clear that he doesn’t want to go to a hospital under any circumstances, ever. But last week he was admitted to A&E with a high temperature and I didn’t fret for one moment that he’d be alarmed. Why? He’s got late-stage dementia. He’s forgotten

Mind games | 9 May 2019

‘Beep!’ This is one of the most maddening computer games I’ve ever played. I’m tracking a flock of birds, and when I hit the right one, it explodes with a satisfying ‘phutt’. But as I get better at spotting them, the birds scatter ever more wildly across the screen, and I hear that unforgiving ‘beep’: you missed. Frankly, I feel like giving up. But many players don’t dare. For this is HawkEye, a brain-training programme that claims it can sharpen my brain beyond simply getting faster at mouse-clicking. Trials have found that older people who play enough hours of this particular kind of game have fewer car crashes — and

Low life | 10 January 2019

We were eight for dinner on New Year’s Eve: four men and four women with a combined age, I would guess, of around 500. A quarter of the company — two of the men — had been officially diagnosed as suffering from one form or another of dementia. We whose brains still neatly fitted the inside of our skulls were instead prey to all the usual anxieties, delusions, depressions and addictions typical of those wealthy, late middle-aged English people who exist in the strange limbo of expatriation. We sat there facing each other across the dinner table on the last day of the year, knackered, it’s true, each drifting aimlessly

Low life | 6 December 2018

I entered the cave house carrying groceries and panting from the climb to find an old hippie woman displaying rugs to Catriona. Evidently Catriona had narrowed her final choice down to the two spread out on the red floor tiles. She and the hippie were silently contemplating them. One was about six feet by four, the other four by two. ‘What do you think?’ said Catriona. ‘Very ethnic,’ I said. ‘From where?’ The hippie woman asserted ‘Cappadocia’ rather too hastily for my liking. ‘They’re kilims,’ said Catriona, brightly and knowledgeably. Top of the class, she informed me that a kilim is a traditional prayer mat or wall decoration decorated with