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Dementia, loneliness and an NHS struggling to cope, were all addressed on TV last night in two hard-hitting documentaries.

Pensions and the price of growing old, Monday 13 July, Channel 4

Can we continue to rely on the state to support us in old age? This was the premise of a dispatches documentary shown on Channel 4 last night in Pensions and the Price of Growing Old, presented by Michael Buerk. Issues of loneliness, isolation and depression amongst older people were the focus of the report, which revealed that more than four million people in the UK aged over 60 live alone, many relying on television as their main source of company.

‘It’s a shocking figure,’ admitted Dame Esther Rantzen, founder of Silverline. ‘You know loneliness brings depression, it can lead to mental deterioration, it can lead to Alzheimer’s, it’s horrible when you wake up at 3am longing for someone to talk to and there’s no one.’
Neither programme made easy watching, but it was good to see so many important issues being raised on prime time TV .

Catch up on this programme by visiting the channel4.com website until 11 August.

Panorama: NHS – The Perfect Storm, Monday 13 July, BBC1

Pat had been married to Peter for 48 years when one day he took off his wedding ring and handed it back to her. ‘That was hard, ‘Pat admitted, fighting back tears. ‘But I know the love we’d had and the love I’ve got is still there.’

Pat and Peter, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s seven years ago, were part of a BBC Panorama documentary last night filmed at a number of NHS locations in and around Liverpool over several months. The programme featured several elderly people living with long term health conditions and showed a health care system struggling to cope practically and financially.

Like many dementia carers Pat has found her own way to deal with daily life. One activity which has really helped is making a memory box. Peter’s memory box contains medals he won running marathons all over the world (25 in total) and of course his beloved Everton season ticket… and the pleasure he gains from rummaging through his memory box was plain to see. ‘This box has been a lifesaver,’ Pat said. ‘A lot of years have gone into that box, and it’s been a good life.’

Although still clearly devoted to Peter, now 73, and determined to continue caring for him, Pat does allow herself one wish. ‘I’d love to go into his world for five minutes and for him to say, ‘we’re all right Pat.’’

But how long will the NHS be able to help couples like Peter and Pat? They were both shown looking around a new and impressive day centre for those living with dementia as Pat accepted she might need to take an occasional break from caring. But Peter didn’t seem keen…

Their story is a familiar one, currently played out in thousands of homes nationwide, but seeing it succinctly captured on camera was a stirring experience and one which many dementia carers will relate to.

Peter & Pat Stranack