Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A trip into Londonium to talk about dementia

Another day, another trip into London for something concerning dementia. This time it was a workshop focusing on current challenges for dementia research and the guest list was a thing of great beauty with eminent Professors from all over the country. Some of them I'd met before, some I hadn't but one thing I did know was that even if some of the things they talked about were hard for me to understand I would still be able to offer the view of a lay person.

The weather had been vile for several days and there was a chance that the trains would be disrupted and delayed not just because of that but also because trains on our line are not stopping at London Bridge station whilst it is renovated. This meant I had to catch a train which arrived 2 hours earlier than I would have liked as the next one didn't give me any contingency.

When I left home it was pouring with rain and blowing a gale and there was flooding everywhere. I half expected to have to turn back in the valley as the river often floods that road but it was OK and my journey to the station was uneventful thankfully. I tried to take a photo of the station in the rain but my camera decided to misbehave and make everything blurry.

Mike liked this photo as he said it was very Impressionist so I've included it. It makes my eyes go funny looking at it though!

The train arrived on time but was delayed outside London Bridge station due to speed restrictions causing a backlog so I arrived with over an hour and three quarters to kill. Thankfully the rain had stopped and so I decided to take a leisurely stroll through some of our old haunts in the West End and I'm so glad I did.

As I wandered through the streets of Soho I walked past the offices of Private Eye, a satirical magazine, and it made me think about the murders in Paris. Then I spotted this beautiful sculpture on the front of The Nadler, a 'boutique hotel' created in 2010 in the centre of Soho. It is entitled Selene and was commissioned by the hotel to represent sleep. In the details, the sculptor says it was created in the image of a black woman but I couldn't actually see that. It's very interesting though with lots of bits to catch your attention.

Even though I dawdled all the way I was still there far too early so I sat with a coffee and croissant and watched the world go by for a while. I love people watching. You can just let your mind wander as the images flood over you. Then I thought I'd go for a short wander in Regent's Park, known as one of the Royal Parks (on land originally owned by the Monarchy), which is directly opposite the venue and I'm so glad I did.

Regent's Park was used as a hunting ground for hundreds of years but when the lease expired the Prince Regent, who later became George 1V, commissioned  the architect John Nash to develop the area. The park was first opened to the general public in 1845.

This is the first thing I saw when I entered the park - this sweet man feeding the squirrels. I asked him if  he'd mind me taking some photos of him as it was such a charming sight and we chatted for a while. He was feeding them with pistachios and they looked very plump and prosperous. He told me he goes there every day so they must love him! They were so tame.

I love to see a park being used by all ages groups and it was nice to see some toddlers and their nannies coming out to play and run around. I saw several runners and lots of dog walkers, thankfully all on their leashes. I mention that because a fellow runner, Jeff Prestridge, (****warning, do not follow the link if you are squeamish***) was attacked by a dog in Hyde Park recently. 

It was lovely to see the bare bones of the park displayed and what kept drawing my eye were the huge planters and fountains.

The section of the park I was in is known as the 'Avenue Gardens', laid out and planted in the Victorian style. There are lots of walkways edged with evergreen hedges and rows and rows of deciduous trees. This massive planter atop winged lions, known as Griffins or Lion Tazza, make an impressive feature. 

I love the contrasting foliage used - the black strappy grass-like plant is Ophiopogon paniscapus 'Nigrescens' which I use a lot in our garden at home and in the main bowl there's a form of Heuchera, possibly 'marmalade', and a dark-leaved Phormium.

Beautiful cascading fountain

The ground was so sodden it looks as if this bed has got a moat around it!

I loved the shape of this tree and its beautiful catkins
At 10:30am I headed across the road to the Royal College of Physicians which is the oldest medical college in England with a focus on public health and preventive medicine. It was founded in 1518 during Henry V111's reign.

View from the side
This current building was built in 1964 and is considered a modernist masterpiece and is now protected by a Grade 1 listing (a system for protecting building of historical importance).

However, when the building was erected it did not receive a warm welcome from the local residents because they felt its modernity did not sit happily next to the glorious buildings nearby as seen in this photo below.

Inside there is an interesting display including this model of the building. I've enlarged the plaque so you can see a comment from a local resident who obviously did not like the building at all!

I didn't have much time to look around so I just snapped away at anything that caught my eye and I loved these 2 decorative plaques:

There were lots of paintings and busts of famous physicians but it was this stained glass window panel that caught my eye as the bright colours broke up the starkness of the marble tiles.

I met some very interesting people with whom I would love to speak in more depth, especially those dealing with end of life care and those dealing with severe dementia. It became clear that research into the final stages of dementia is virtually non-existent which was disappointing and the other thing that struck me was that no-one seems to be studying the effects on the carer of caring for someone with dementia. I exchanged email addresses with several Professors so it will interesting to see where that leads, if anywhere.

I was interested to hear from some people who are looking at caring for the emotional needs of dementia patients rather than just using a pharmaceutical option (aka 'interventions'), i.e. dispensing drugs. I've always said that the reason we were able to keep mum in the early stages for so long was that she lived with us, had interactions with all age groups, was surrounded by music, animals and plenty of mental stimulation.

It was rather disappointing that within my group there was little enthusiasm for Join dementia research and there were comments such as "theres no way to link researchers with sufferers of dementia" and "there aren't many people registered". Given that when I last checked there are 1421 volunteers and 26 studies on the system I think we might need to do a publicity drive in the Universities to capture these Professors! 

I'm hoping that the National launch will get lots of publicity so that more people will sign up. I am already signed up to take part in a long term trial known as the PROTECT study which will help understand the way our brains age and look at certain risk factors (genetic and lifestyle). 

The trial is open to anyone over the age of 50 in the UK who does not have dementia or any other neurodegenerative disorder. I think this is an excellent study as if we know how and why dementia develops then we can stop it happening rather trying to find a cure after dementia has taken hold. 

All I had to do was answer a series of questions focusing on how I feel I react in certain circumstances compared with 10 years ago (for example, am I more forgetful, less self-assured, problem solving/reasoning powers, that sort of thing). Then Mike answered the same questions based on how he perceived my reactions, not how I perceived myself. The next thing will be to provide a DNA sample using a simple kit to take a swab of saliva.

If anyone reading this is interested in taking part in any research studies, please take a look at the  Join dementia research website and sign-up. There are helplines available if you have any questions and representatives from both Alzheimer's Research UK and the Alzheimer's Society will be able to give you more details. 

Please do join me in the fight against dementia as together we can make a difference.

Unfortunately I missed my train on the way home and had to wait another 1.5 hours for the next one. I used the time to wander round a bookshop nearby and when I got back to Charing Cross station I glanced over towards Trafalger Square and the spire of St martin-in-the-fields looked so beautiful glinting in the sun. You can see some photos of the church and crypt here.

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