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Dementia: No Hollywood Ending For Anyone

04/03/2015 18:06 GMT | Updated 03/05/2015 10:59 BST

Forget the dish of the day - lightly cured hake on a bed of wilted seaweed with a shrimp and anchovy butter sauce, if you're wondering - what's the disease of the day? From Soho House to The Polo Lounge, that's the question every aspiring Harvey Weinstein wants the answer to when they're enjoying their power player lunch.

Ask any waiter or waitress, the ones who desperately want to be an actor or actress, and they'll tell you that it's dementia. Preferably with a side order of depression, confusion and dramatic mood swings. Hold the bladder incontinence, if you don't mind.

Move over cancer (those involved in last year's The Fault in Our Stars may wish to disagree, but let's face it, there hasn't been a truly great cancer film since Terms of Endearment in 1983) and go to the back of the queue HIV (Philadelphia and more recently, Dallas Buyers Club), 2015 is all about one illness. With due respect to Eddie Redmayne's award-winning performance, it isn't Motor Neurone disease. A little too niche and not nearly mainstream enough. The thing about dementia is that at the moment it's everywhere - the disease equivalent of Kale for the foodies out there. Apparently, the trendy green vegetable is one of those you're meant to eat if you want to help avoid this terrible condition. Excuse me while I boil up a few panfuls. Christ, it's bland.

This weekend, tens of thousands of people will be flocking to the cinema to see Still Alice with Julianne Moore portraying a woman with early onset Alzheimer's. They'll undoubtedly be able to identify and sympathise with what's happening on the screen because even if dementia is not directly affecting them, there's a high probability that it will be affecting someone they know, be it a parent, a grandparent, a spouse, a sibling or a dear friend. Watching the movie will act as a cathartic shared experience.

Not for me though. All a bit too close to home, I'm afraid. Instead, I'll once again be experiencing dementia up close and personal by going to see my mother.

My brother and I have been undergoing the same routine for over 3 years. During this time, we've witnessed her state of health worsen dramatically, the decline becoming more marked almost on a daily basis. Memory, bodily functions and speech have all gone spectacularly downhill (off a cliff might be a better description) to the point where they're now non-existent.

She, in common with many fellow sufferers, has no idea of her plight. I'm not sure she's ever genuinely known. From the very first noticeable stages when she kept on phoning to insist that someone had broken into her home and replaced the knobs on the washing machine to the Christmas shortly afterwards when she spent the whole day playing with invisible cats (quite an Actors Studio performance as it turned out), her grasp on reality quickly loosened, leaving her to live in some kind of permanent fog which never cleared. I have a sinking feeling that's what dementia is really like - a fog bound neurological Heathrow with planes of thought forever circling, kept in a giant holding pattern by the mind's air traffic controllers, as if over a brain dead Biggin Hill. Permission to land constantly refused.

To begin with, nursing homes are just about OK. Initially, you convince or kid yourself that at least your loved ones are far better off here than they would be anywhere else. But as the days, weeks, months and years go by in a never ending stream of nothingness, your views start to change. Was this the right environment, after all?

The staff come and go, the residents depart for pastures new (heavenly or otherwise), the stories and situations however remain predictably and sadly the same. You look at the others visiting their nearest and dearest, often out of a sense of duty and guilt more than anything else, and you know precisely what they're thinking. This will be me in 10, 20, 30...years time. Yes, dear friend, I too have seen the future and it basically involves an adult nappy and Smooth FM gently playing in the background. No wonder those visitors are hardly able to get out of the place fast enough. They kiss the person in front of them. "You look well today. See you again soon". But their eyes say what their mouths don't and daren't: "Dear God! I can't take this any more. Surely it won't go on that much longer."

As far as the patient is concerned, it isn't an existence either. It isn't even existing. It's waiting. For a merciful end that will put them out of their misery with as much dignity as possible. We all deserve that, don't we? Frequently, dementia doesn't afford us the opportunity.

Eventually, of course, you find yourself resenting not only the emotional burden, but also the huge financial one. £4,500 a month in our case.

This I'm sorry to report is the private face of dementia in the 21st century. It isn't a glamorous star wearing Chanel custom haute couture standing on the stage of the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard while clutching a small gold statue and spouting "heartfelt" thanks. It is in fact, an 81 year woman, our mother, wearing a pair of Primark pyjamas, lying back on a bed in a room overlooking a jam factory on an out of town industrial estate.

Something tells me that dementia in the movies and on TV might soon have reached saturation level. I certainly hope so. Time perhaps to move onto another disease. How about Type 2 diabetes? Unfortunately, I can't see Ms Moore piling on 300 pounds to play that part.

What a shame Brando is no longer with us. Never mind money or Oscar glory, he'd have done it for something far more precious to him. Pudding.