Thought for the Day - Professor Mona Siddiqui

A few weeks ago I met up with a colleague who said that she was working part-time now because she needed to look after her mother who was suffering from dementia. I looked at her and said, ` Its sad, when I was young I used to think death happened to other people, now I’m in the generation that doesn’t think of dying but rather what I might die from. Its become a bit of a depressing conversation point amongst those of us who feel that we are slowly getting to the age when something terrible might be diagnosed and that one day our lives will not be our lives anymore – we will just become people other people care for.

Yesterday on this programme there was a discussion about the recent study on Alzheimer's disease published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Scientists have shown that patients who stayed on drug treatments for dementia including aricept had a slower decline in their memory and cognitive skills even as they entered the later or severe stages of the condition. In fact continued use of these drugs could mean around 3-4 months of a better and more dignified quality of life.

It is chilling to read that one third of the population in the UK will be affected by dementia at some point but that it remains a largely neglected global health challenge. There’s something about the gradual loss of memory which impacts not only on our personal dignity but also to the gradual loss of identity. Someone recently said, `no-one wants to die even those who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there.’ And yet when we think of our own mortality, however fleetingly, we want to die as we have lived, just older, not sick, not dependent, still with ability to look after ourselves, and most importantly to be able to love and feel loved. Maybe that is the most frightening aspect of the advanced stages of losing memory and control, that you inhabit a world where all familiarity has gone, where love has seemingly gone but where you feel powerless to let anyone in. No one can cheat death however much we try to stall it but if any drug can alleviate this fear for just a little longer its good to know it might be made available in the future.

From an Islamic perspective, belief in God requires belief in an afterlife, that there is another journey to be made after our death towards God. Traditional piety encourages us to think of this world as fleeting despite its attractions and the next world as the real. Vivid images of heaven and hell leave us both hopeful and fearful. And yet for most of us all that we hold precious, our desires and all that we are, belongs to this life. I would hope that even heaven doesn’t rob us of these memories.

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