When forgetfulness becomes pathological

A few years back I was a member of the Policy Group for Alzheimer Scotland. I resigned as I was concerned about some of the approaches being taken at a national level including significant concerns about the target set for the early diagnosis of dementia.

This week a promotional e-mail arrived from Alzheimer Scotland:

2 Feb 2015 Alz Scot early diagnosis2

The “Let’s talk about Dementia” campaign was introduced as: “We want to open up the discussion on dementia and raise the awareness of the importance of early diagnosis”. The guidance given is comprehensive and explicit. An Alzheimer Scotland helpline is available 24 hours:

The good intentions are clear. Yet I have significant concerns with this approach.

I have previously covered my concerns about early diagnosis here.

I have also considered the wider scientific evidence on memory loss as we age. This post on the parabolic pattern offers a summary.

The risk of the approach taken by Alzheimer Scotland in this current campaign is that all forgetfulness is “understood” as pathological. As disease. As “early dementia”. As “Alzheimers” (as dementia may synonymously be misunderstood). This would be a false “understanding” for a significant number of our respected elders in Scotland. Such misunderstanding risks undermining their “rights, dignity and autonomy”.

In October 2014 I attended the Conference below. Here is a summary of this conference by Henry Simmons, Chief Executive of Alzheimer Scotland:HSimmons

I welcomed “The Glasgow Declaration” endorsing as it  does a timely approach to the diagnosis of dementia:


I was delighted to see this agreement signed as I have been tireless supporter for timely diagnosis. The Glasgow Declaration follows the guidance of the UK National Screening Committee and for Europe, ALCOVE, Timely Diagnosis of Dementia.

So, with this history in mind, here is my [fictional] letter to the letters page of any newspaper published in Scotland. Here, I am following the advice of this latest Alzheimer Scotland Campaign:

5th February 2015

"Dear Editor,
I am writing as I am concerned about the short term memories 
of a few professional colleagues. 

This is a "difficult conversation" for me to have. 

I have followed advice and will not mention any names 
but can give designations. One is the recent Cabinet Minister 
for Health, another is his Senior Government Advisor 
and the last is the Chief Executive of Alzheimer Scotland.

It seems that all three have forgotten that they signed, 
in October 2013, the Glasgow Declaration based on 
the timely diagnosis of dementia.

I must admit feeling a bit confused myself as to why we have 
such forgetfulness. I do hope that it is not pathological.

Yours sincerely
Dr Peter J Gordon

Short films about the diagnosis of dementia by Dr Peter J. Gordon [please click on each image to play the film]:

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