The comedian is creating a stand-up show around the laughter (and tears) that his dad’s Pick’s disease creates, and explains why it’s so important to talk about it
For many people with little or no experience of dementia, many may assume that the stereotypical symptoms – forgetfulness, wandering, vacant stares – are all that you can expect.
But for comedian and writer David Baddiel, he’s keen to make it clear that dementia comes in many types and forms, creating a variety of different symptoms. As far as his own experience goes, from his interactions with his father Colin, it’s thrown up some interesting anecdotes.
Writing in the Sunday Times last week, Baddiel says;
‘One of the issues about dementia is that we have a mono view based, essentially, on the people who have turned their faces to the wall — the ancient man or woman staring comatose into space while care home workers change their blankets. But actually dementia, much like cancer, takes many forms — Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Pick’s, often in combination — and one of those creates a state of being wildly different, almost opposite, from that image.
‘My father has Pick’s disease, a type of dementia induced by frontal lobe atrophy. When his neurologist first told me the diagnosis, he explained that the symptoms, along with short-term memory loss, might include incessant and obscene swearing, sexual disinhibition and extreme rudeness, irritability and impatience. I said, sorry, does he have a disease, or have you just met him?’
For Baddiel, while appreciating the sadness of dementia, the loss of memory and decline in capabilities, he also wants to find laughter in the mind-boggling craziness of the condition.
‘If you can imagine Viz’s Roger Mellie, a bit more sweary, and Welsh, that’s my dad. And what the dementia has done is make that side of him — what you might call his anti-social side — grow like a malignant lesion, to the expense of all others. In my mind, he does not have Pick’s disease, he has Colin Baddiel’s disease.’
Baddiel has discovered that it is the coarser side of his personality that the Pick’s disease has amplified. He shares an anecdote of his father being wheeled into a hospital operating theatre for an operation and just as he disappears down the corridor, he starts flipping ‘V’ signs at all the doctors and nurses.
‘Sometimes my dad finds he can’t form words these days, so he’ll do this thing that I think is very indicative of who he is: blow raspberries. It’s indicative of who he is because his attitude will outlast his language, and that attitude is defiant, puerile, f***-you, and shot through with I-don’t-want-your-pity.’
Baddiel hopes that his comedy show will not only raise awareness of a type and symptoms of a condition that is less well known than many others, but also to encourage others to find joy and laughter in the ridiculous, the obscene and the awkwardly funny side of dementia.
David Baddiel’s My Family: Not the Sitcom, debuts at Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1, on 18 May. Visit davidbaddiel.com