Channel 4's Dementiaville, review: a study of dementia with the human touch

'Where’s me dad?’ said the 91-year-old as he wondered the corridors of a care home

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It’s a sad and incongruous sight: a 91-year-old man wandering the corridors of a care home in search of his long-dead father. “Where’s me dad gone?” said Les repeatedly in Dementiaville, the new three-part series on a ground-breaking new approach to care for the elderly. Ten years ago it would have been the job of Craig, a specialist carer at Poppy Lodge in the Midlands to gently remind Les that his father died in 1971 and would be pushing 130, were he still alive. These days, however, they do things differently.

One in three of us will one day experience dementia first-hand and many more  will witness it at close quarters so the  topic of treatment should be one that’s close to all our hearts. It’s also fascinating. Dementia at first gradually, then alarmingly quickly, dismantles the memories on which our identities are built; its a study in nothing less than the study of what it means to be human.

The Butterfly Household model of care, as practised at Poppy Lodge, suggests that anchoring drifting minds in the present is less important than preserving their sense of well-being and dignity. To that end, staff don’t correct sufferers’ misconceptions about reality, but instead join them in their delusions, even helping to re-create their memories when appropriate.

Craig takes John, who at just 56 is the home’s youngest resident on day trips out to the Royal Naval Association, hoping to stimulate happy feelings about his long seafaring career. John seems to like it, although Pick’s disease (a rare and aggressive form of dementia) has reduced his vocabulary to a just few, repeated phrases. For John, therefore, every day is “one of those days”.

These methods seem largely successful  in reducing anxiety among late-stage dementia suffers, but it doesn’t make it  any easier on the loved ones. Jean visited her husband, Bob, at the home everyday, sitting with him, chatting to him and wrestling with the urge to take him home again. “As I walk out of the door I dare not look back because I know I wouldn’t be able to come away,” she said. At the end of the hour, it was hard, too, for even us less emotionally involved visitors to leave the residents of Poppy Lodge behind, when clearly there are so many more life stories here to be told. Happily, there are still two  more episodes to come.

If you find the usual format of gadget review shows to be tired and uninspiring, then you should check out Richard Ayoade’s Gadget Man on 4oD, but ITV’s new Big Box, Little Box is pretty good too. In each episode, five households from across Britain test the latest consumer technology. There was a home sauna, a healthy chip fryer and one of the smallest electric cars on the market, and the testers were game to try out anything, which is just as well because, Sid, dad of Ilford’s Selant family looked very silly indeed conducting a conversation with his hand, while out on a shopping trip to the high street.

The bemused greengrocer obviously thought Sid was one strawberry short of a punnet, but in fact this was the Bluetooth gloves, a device that lets you answer calls without taking your phone out of your pocket. Genius, no?