This week we have been meeting some of the scientists working in dementia research. As Newcastle University leads the country in this field, we were very lucky that they gave so generously of their time to meet with us – three writers with obscure, non scientific questions such as –
“What is the role of the scientist /medic in the debate about end of life decisions for people with dementia?” Or “What approaches can we use to raise awareness of dementia that challenge the stereotypes of older people as a ‘burden on society’ or that the ‘real’ person with dementia is no longer with us?”
We met with experts from various fields – clinicians who see and treat dementia patients as well as neuro-scientists who research the brain for changes that occur in dementia. The research seems to focus on early diagnosis as well as trying to find a cure. Because Newcastle is a leading force, there is also international collaboration with relevant scientists across the globe. I was interested to hear that they share information to further science rather than being very protective of their discoveries
I realise we talked more about the policy and care for dementia patients than science
itself. My own inadequacies were revealed as I confessed to limited understanding of any scientific concepts or terminology. I blame this entirely on my convent schoolteacher, Sister Aidan, who banned me from taking science subjects because I had put chewing gum in the Bunsen burner.
But I learnt so much! How fascinating to hear that the humble snowdrop, Galanthis nivalis, which is looking at its best right now, contains a substance which slows the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Therefore scientists searched
for a way to build Galantamin artificially and this medicine is now available. This substance can slow the development but cannot heal Alzheimer’s disease.
There was so much learning in one week that I am still processing all the discussion and feeling inadequate that I have not read more about the actual brain. I was left reeling at the difference between the mind and the brain and how little scientists really know about that connection. But I also discovered that the process of writing a scientific paper can link with intuition, not just hard data, as in my own creative writing. So we maybe had more in common than was apparent.