When Sally met Henning: Bringing Dementia into our Social Consciousness

Complex change
15th June 2014

Last night Sally Magnussen met Henning Mankell and in doing so brought the topic of dementia into our collective social consciousness. They didn’t actually meet in person. At least not as far as I know, but they came together as part of my Saturday night viewing, and I cried during both shows.

The first was watching Sally read extracts from her deeply moving book – ‘Where Memories Go’ – at The Borders Book Festival in Melrose. The second was a couple of hours later when I watched  Krister Henriksson play the iconic Swedish detective, Kurt Wallander on TV who had just received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease (9pm BBC4).

Sally, the daughter of the esteemed (late) Journalist and TV presenter Magnus Magnussen,

and the lesser known Maimie, who is the subject of the book, is campaigning for better care and support for people with dementia. A question from the audience elicited the response from Sally that they didn’t pursue a diagnosis of dementia for her mother because, at that time (around 2007), there was too little support available, so ‘there was little point in putting her through the testing’.

Henning Mankell, author of the Wallander books, charts Kurt Wallander’s decline into Alzheimer’s Disease but puts a different slant on the detective’s experience. Kurt realises something is wrong and seeks a diagnosis himself. He chooses (at least for now) to keep it a secret from his colleagues; although he eventually confides in his daughter, Linda. The closing scene is heart breaking.

It’s a compassionate, brave and utterly professional portrayal of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. There is still one episode to go in this series of ‘Wallander’ but it’s clear that, unlike Ian Rankin’s ‘Rebus’, there will be no coming back from this for Kurt.

Those currently struggling with dementia and the 1 in 3 who will face diagnosis in years to come, will surely only benefit from the representations of Sally Magnussen and the Wallander production team.

My Saturday night with Sally and Henning marked the end of a week for me which began with my involvement in events that brought representatives from the G7 (formerly G8) countries to Scotland to collaborate on dementia.  In the early 1990s I was the Charge Nurse of a 16 bedded ward for people with dementia and I can only wonder at what my younger self would have made of this week in 2014!

The G7 guests heard about progress in Scotland. The Scottish Government target set in 2013 to increase the number of people with dementia actually being diagnosed. This acts as the gateway so that people can get the support and services they need to live life as independently as possible (see Post Diagnostic Support). They also heard about the testing of Alzheimer Scotland’s ‘8 Pillars Framework’. Five ‘early implementer’ localities are exploring how to ensure that care and services for the whole family are properly coordinated as the person progresses to the mid and advanced stages of dementia.

Through work commissioned by the Joint Improvement Team I am supporting two of the five locality teams as they test the 8 Pillars Framework. The changes span the boundaries of the NHS, local authority and the housing and care home sectors and undoubtedly represent one of the most profoundly complex change agendas facing us today.

There is immense will and determination to improve the lives of people being disempowered by the effects of dementia in Scotland. I feel energised just being part of it.

There is still much to do, but Dementia is finally being invited into the parlour from the outhouse. Placing dementia centre-stage for our Saturday night viewing, as long as it’s done sensitively, will de-stigmatise and accelerate the rate of improvement. It is then down to us and the following generations to really make the difference. We have to play our part.











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