The dark rainbow of dementia

Chris Hardy (a PhD Student at University College London) reviews 'The trouble with Dad' on Channel 4.

The 'dark rainbow of dementia' – the complicated and wide-ranging spectrum of the disease – was laid bare last week by the comedian David Baddiel. Colin Baddiel, his father, has Pick’s disease – a type of frontotemporal dementia characterised by changes to behaviour and social cognition.

Baddiel Jr talked candidly about his dad’s 'punk dementia' in an hour-long documentary, The Trouble with Dad. It was poignant, touching and shockingly funny in places. With the help of David’s brothers Ivor and Dan, we gained an insight into the world of the Baddiels after Colin received this devastating diagnosis.

'What am I supposed to do? Smile? He’s a fucking idiot, a total tit,' are some of the first words we heard Colin say, regarding David with something approaching wry disdain.

While David later emphasised that his Dad has always been slightly foul-mouthed, swearing, aggression and social inappropriateness are also some of the symptoms associated with Pick’s disease. Sexual disinhibition was emphasised in the programme – and we see instances of emotional lability, anosognosia and musicophilia too. David noted that Colin has developed a habit of repeatedly blowing his nose – an example of an obsessive behavior that can often happen with frontotemporal dementia.

We also saw David and Ivor meet two other people living with Pick’s disease. Ken greeted them with a full rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma’, while Lindsey – later on in the course of the disease – was essentially mute. The constellation of symptoms associated with Pick’s was thrown into sharp relief; early in the programme, we saw Ken crying inconsolably in the middle of a café. But later on, Ken’s daughter Sarah showed the Baddiel brothers footage of her father yelling at her.

The scope of the programme didn't extend to covering neuroanatomy or genetics, both of which are complex but incredibly important. In around a third of cases of frontotemporal dementia, there is a significant genetic component, which can have huge ramifications for the children and relatives of those with the disease. It would perhaps have been useful for lay audience members if a neurologist or expert in the field had explained these points.

But that said, part of the programme’s charm was in its simplicity. It wasn’t overly sentimental, but still very touching. We were simply given a window onto a devastating condition that traditionally hasn’t received much attention, allowed by the Baddiels to consider the impact of the disease on family members and friends too. While many people have a very narrow idea of what dementia is, the film showed us the full rainbow of the condition, with all its different shades.

We run Rare Dementia Support groups for people affected by frontotemporal and other rare dementias. For more information, see http://www.raredementiasupport.org/ftd/

- Watch the programme on demand. See also a recent British Psychological Society report on the psychological dimensions of dementia. Find more in our archive.

 

 

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