Stop dementia porn now

There is a gruesome fascination now with fine minds becoming unstuck. From genius to vegetable. Is this dementia porn?

There seem to be two ways of writing fiction about old age. You have the old person or couple at the centre of family’s obsessive attention because they are rich or annoying. Or they are increasingly shoved outside the circle of family, excluded from decisions (most importantly decisions about them) and kept uninformed. This may be truthful but it is wearisome. My idea of a novel about family is Brideshead Revisited, Love in a Cold Climate or Seven Little Australians. Joking. But as soon as there is too much reality, family becomes a shocking bore. It’s not only happy families that are the same. Classified as happy or unhappy, there is a terrible sameness about them. And now there is an obsession with dementia in the family. Popular, even revered, US author Anne Tyler, who has written dozens of books about families, some of them absolute winners, has disappointed me with her 20th, A Spool of Blue Thread. The family comes together to decide what is to be done about Grandma (who has a spot of dementia) and Grandpa (bit of a heart attack). Then the prodigal son turns up. I have never liked prodigal son variations. The biblical version left the mother out. Now it is fashionable to have the naughty boy as Mum’s favourite. I was briefly excited, when I read the overseas reviews, that this could be an important book about family reactions to old age and elders’ reactions to family. I ended up bored and listless. I simply didn’t care about this family and its obsession with food, gossip and competitive concern about the oldies. Tell me this is not a symptom. It probably is a symptom of my reading, and being appalled by, media stories along the lines of: Woman forgets where car is in car park. This is a wake-up call about a ‘tsunami’ of dementia sufferers coming your way soon. Now, look out. It’s in the workplace! A veterinary surgeon could no longer operate, a barrister was no longer able to give legal advice… “Helen’s husband Gordon was a trained broker from Lloyds of London. “The couple later worked together in a home office business. “He now has end-stage fronto-temperal dementia.” Don’t laugh, it’s from an ABC online story last month (usually I love the ABC), which was written in total panic mode. Didn’t we learn anything from those ridiculous horror HIV-Aids advertisements of the 80s? Then came the crossheading that really made me laugh: “Government ‘a participant in a conversation’”. Well, that’s all right then. I have quite a collection of ‘tsunami-of-dementia’ articles. This is the best. I also have a collection of ‘incidence of dementia declining world-wide’ stories. Their tone is much more sober. Which do you fancy? If you choose the panic variety, remember that the government is having a conversation and be comforted. If you choose the ones about dementia incidence declining, you are no fun, are you? But a final, serious word about dementia stories. There is a gruesome fascination now with fine minds becoming unstuck. From genius to vegetable. Is this dementia porn? Nobody worries about old plumbers who can’t plumb anymore because they have bad backs. No, it’s more exciting to worry about a tsunami of bonkers old fogeys who need to be got out of their cars, out of their jobs, out of their families, out of the way. It’s not really very nice. •••• Oldies in the UK have got their act together. For one thing they have a monthly glossy magazine of their own, called The Oldie, and it’s online as well. What’s more, the magazine conducts a forum called Oldie Borum, where people of a similar vintage can chat online. I suspect some of the participants until recently deplored the internet and all its works. Now they’ve taken to it. The editor, former Spectator editor Alexander Chancellor, and former Private Eye editor Richard Ingrams, founded The Oldie in 1992, at which time it was described by legendary columnist Nigel Dempster as the ultimate conceit and folly. Ingrams walked out last year in “acrimonious circumstances”. Can you imagine the furious rows of the old buffers? The remaining editor, Alexander Chancellor, writes: “It was envisaged as a light-hearted alternative to a press obsessed with youth and celebrity, a truly independent, free-thinking and no bullshit magazine. The Oldie offers almost no advice about retirement or how to grow old, but keeps you young with a steady supply of wit, entertainment and bracing good sense.” Of course it does offer advice in spades. The most recent one I read one had man of letters Ronald Blythe (aged 91 in the magazine’s contents, 92 11 pages later), telling readers that he has always thought of old age as a gift. And while he claims to have no advice for living a long life, proceeds to give it anyway. Lots of female writers contribute, including one of my favourites on old age, Virginia Ironside. It’s a bit of a riot, to tell the truth: theoldie.co.uk. @mollyfisher4

X