Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 63(3) August 2013

The dilemmas of dementia

Anthony Porter, W9


It is disturbing to learn that around one in six patients placed upon the Liverpool Care Pathway has some form of dementia. Yet despite their condition, patients with dementia are neither injured nor terminally ill and some could live another decade or more with careful nursing. Once added to the Pathway, however, they are labelled as "dying".

Such redefining often occurs without their own or their family's knowledge. It is usually cloaked with slogans like "allowed to die" and "dying with dignity". Added to this, many are confused and bewildered as well as profoundly thirsty because they have been sedated while dehydrated.

Yet the system allows for dramatic contrasts. Motoring ideology demands that dangerous drivers be allowed back on the roads as soon as possible, even elderly motorists with dementia. Meanwhile, the number of elderly drivers on Britain's roads is set to climb from 7 million in 1993 to around 16 million by 2030. And the oldest motorist is now 106!

Thus, in one recent hit and run case, a Kent woman of 62 with dementia who killed a pedestrian argued that she had lost mental function because of dementia and so was quite unaware of the death crash she had caused. Amazingly, she was never imprisoned but instead was ordered to retake her driving test.

In another case, a motorist aged 74 who had crashed, killing himself and another man, was known to have had dementia. He had refused to give up his driving and it later emerged that Cambridgeshire police had failed to prevent him from doing so when he had been moved into sheltered accommodation.

Antony Porter, London, W9