When memories grow a little rusty

Terry Nawn
Terry Nawn
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It’s the film that has divided opinion. Meryl Streep may have an Oscar nomination for getting Margaret Thatcher down to a T ... but were makers of The Iron Lady film wrong to portray the life story of an influential politician, whose career bloomed via the Blackpool conference circuit, through the fractured looking glass of the dementia now afflicting her?

Alison Mainwaring, clinical research nurse at Blackpool’s Memory Assessment Clinic, says anything which opens debate on dementia and associated conditions is welcome.

“Whether people choose to see it is another matter,” adds the former A&E staff nurse at Blackpool Victoria Hospital. “I haven’t. But I thought the Iris Murdoch film handled it beautifully. It had real sensitivity.”

Terry Nawn, 82, a regular at the Faraday Way, Bispham-based clinic, has no intention of seeing the biopic (on at the Odeon, Blackpool and the Vue, Cleveleys) which has split Britain, with some screenings in northern England even picketed in protest.

Terry, a tough little Scot who has kept herself physically and mentally fit, admits: “I’ve no real interest in Mrs Thatcher, or seeing anyone portrayed as losing their mind. I think dementia is the thing we all dread. I come here for that reason, to monitor my faculties, make sure all was well. It’s a peace of mind thing.

“These days, if I want to remember something, I have to write it down so I don’t forget. But I haven’t got dementia – thank heaven. I started coming here to see if all was well. You do little tests, sums – which I dread as I’ve always hated maths – and other things.

“So I keep on top of things by coming here every six months, like any other screening.”

MAC Clinical Research has won a raft of awards, including the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in recognition of its outstanding contribution to international economic growth. It attributes success to global contacts which allow research to blossom into the development of drugs which treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and pain.

Chief operating officer Dr Steve Higham says: “The key to our success is putting the needs of our customers first.”

The company’s extended its reach across the region, adding a 24-bed research centre at Manchester, another centre at Spire’s Liverpool Hospital, while offering services in Yorkshire and South Staffordshire, too.

The specialist neuroscientist is a director, and one of the physicians who carries out the memory assessments to help diagnose patients who might be having problems with memory for other reasons – or experiencing the first signs of neurodegenerative illness.

“It’s consultant-led. We see a lot of people who are concerned about their memory, only to find reassurance here,” he adds. “Sometimes it can be as simple as a Vitamin B12 deficiency. There’s also a natural slowing in cognitive function which comes with age. And people are living longer.

“But we have had people in here as young as their 30s, through to 100 years of age. We try to see people within two to three weeks.”

Dr Higham is understandably guarded on the nature of research trials for dementia drugs. But the centre is on the frontline of promoting research into Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders.

“We also do a lot of research across the spectrum of central nervous system disorders, are involved in pain management, and are studying depression, too,” he adds.

He works closely with Dr Mark Dale, who, as a consultant psychiatrist with Blackpool Fylde and Wyre NHS, first set up a memory clinic at Fleetwood a decade ago, and is uniquely placed to both know the area, which has a high incidence of dementia, and shape policies to meet the challenges of new medical advances. “He has a great deal of vision,” adds Dr Higham.

“Now we have a purpose built facility – we moved here in 2006 – and can offer more options.”

Public health chiefs consider dementia a ticking timebomb for society. Sadly, that also means reports of positive research findings can be hyped by the national press creating false hope for the newly-diagnosed, as Dr Higham concedes.

“It’s a big ask. As yet there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or any of the dementias, but we are heavily involved in new meds that may out perform early symptomatological meds available.

“Early diagnosis is absolutely crucial. There’s no biopsy to detect it, we look at risk factors and other elements.”

Meanwhile, staff work closely with the Alzheimer’s Society and have good links with local support workers and health specialists. “We get GP referrals here, and self-referrals too,” adds Dr Higham. “As for others, my advice would be eat healthily, and exercise as much as possible. It’s good advice for pretty much anything that ails you.”

* For more on MAC visit www. macresearch.co.uk