LIFESTYLE

'The Trouble With Dad': David Baddiel On Father's Struggle With Rare Dementia, Pick's Disease

It affects roughly 16,000 people in the UK.

20/02/2017 17:13 GMT | Updated 20/02/2017 17:31 GMT

Comedian and author David Baddiel has opened up about his father’s battle with Pick’s disease, a little-known type of dementia.

In a new show ‘The Trouble With Dad’ on Channel 4, David talks about the progression of his father’s disease and the impact it has had on his family. 

His father Colin, who David described as once being a “really bright and intelligent” man has morphed into someone who makes rude and inappropriate comments - to the point where even his own grandchildren can’t visit him.

David explained that it’s quite likely that his father will say something sexual to his daughter if they visit. “He’s not really a cuddly grandparent type,” he added. 

In the show, the author revealed his hopes to reconnect with Colin on an emotional level before it’s too late. 

David Levenson via Getty Images
David Baddiel

Pick’s Disease, or frontotemporal dementia, is a type of dementia which affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. It is one of the less common forms of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, affecting roughly 16,000 people in the UK.

The condition often starts at a younger age than usually seen in other types of dementia, with most cases diagnosed in people aged 50-65.

Symptoms of the disease include uncontrollable swearing, inappropriate behaviour, irritation, mood swings and progressive difficulty with speech and language.

While David says his father has always been quite blunt and emotionally disconnected, the disease has exacerbated these qualities to the extreme.

“I’ve never had a Hollywood kind of relationship with my dad. It’s mainly abusive banter,” he explained. “But now what’s happened is the dementia has made all of that more extreme.

“He was always like this, it’s just made it more intense and less controlled.”

When David arrived at his father’s house to film the documentary, his dad almost immediately called him a “tit” and a “fucking idiot”.

“I think I would like to have some kind of proper, emotional connection with him before he dies,” David later explained. “But I don’t know how that’s going to happen now.”

His reality is one that’s shared by many people caring for loved ones with Pick’s disease. In the show, David meets with other families whose lives are affected daily by the degenerative condition. 

In response to his show, Kathryn Smith, director of operations at Alzheimer’s Society, issued a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to David for opening up about his dad’s illness.

“By speaking out about the often harsh realities of having a parent with dementia, David is helping to break the taboo that still surrounds it and encourage others to speak frankly and openly about their own experiences,” she told The Huffington Post UK. 

It is not clear what causes Pick’s disease, however experts assume that it reflects a mixture of genetic, medical and lifestyle factors.

The illness can be hard to diagnose, according to the NHS, because it doesn’t initially cause memory problems. Additionally, behavioural symptoms may be mistaken for depression, schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder and problems with language or movement may be misdiagnosed as stroke. 

The diagnosis process can be lengthy, as people undertake a number of tests and assessments including: assessments of mental abilities and behaviours, a physical examination, blood tests (to rule out other illnesses), and then brain scans, which can identify the loss of brain cells in the frontal and temporal regions of the brain.

And at the end of that, patients are simply told that the illness is terminal. While there are treatments that can help ease the burden of symptoms, there is no cure.

While it’s a difficult path for David and his two brothers, seeing their father slowly decline, the comedian said he finds therapy in stand-up comedy, talking openly about his experiences and trying to continually laugh and joke with his dad. 

‘The Trouble With Dad’ airs on Monday 20 February at 9pm on Channel 4.

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