Using your personal and professional experience to help medical students learn more about dementia

Afzal Shaikh in Surrey, an 86-year old retired GP with vascular dementia, takes part in the Time for Dementia programme. 

I have memory problems. When I phone somebody, I forget what I phoned for. I apologise and say I’ll phone you back if I remember. I’ve forgotten how to play some of the games I used to play. 

My comprehension is not good. I went to a charity meeting recently but couldn’t understand what was going on. Things which I used to like on TV, now I don’t like.

I’ve also noticed my vocabulary has gone. I can’t speak the words I want to speak. There may be something in my mind, but I just can’t express it. 

There was a street party here recently – I didn’t want to meet or talk to anybody. I think it’s the dementia. Before that, I used to meet with people and talk to them.

Afzal Shaikh

Regular routine 

I have a very regular routine and, as long as that goes correctly, I’m not upset at all. I’ll get up and do this, do that – breakfast, washing up, reading the Qur’an, writing in my diary.

But if anything happens in that routine, if the routine changes, I forget what I was doing. That’s what upsets me. 

Sometimes I’m talking to somebody on the phone and I’ve got something to ask them, but if my wife interrupts me, I forget what I’m going to ask. I don’t like it if I’m reading and somebody comes to the door.

If my wife Zohra wasn’t here, I’d go mad! Many times I’ve had to ask her things which before I could do myself. She’s got her eye on me all the time.  

This morning I left the stove on after cooking breakfast. I get frightened when she goes out, because if anything happens to her, I don’t know what will happen to me.

Perhaps if she wasn’t here, I’d have gone very bad, very soon.

Improve understanding

I’m part of the Time for Dementia programme. I talk with medical students about dementia. They want to know more about me, so I give them as much information as I can provide. Whatever I can offer to help people understand more is good.  

I’m a retired GP and I remember seeing dementia patients when I was in practice – they usually thought they were depressed.

I talk to the students about the workings of medicine, how I used to do my work and diagnose patients. Old things come back to me.  

I advise them that the patient may be self-conscious about it. Be calm, collected, and give the patient your full attention. I also advise them that they should know more about their patient’s family and  history. If you know people well, you can catch changes when they come in. This is how a doctor has to be.  

I think people should know more about dementia. And if people with dementia can help, they should also help.

Time for Dementia

Time for Dementia is creating a new generation of healthcare professionals who are more aware and understanding of dementia.

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1 comment

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Dear Afzal, Thank you for sharing your story - and for talking with the medical students. I think it's great that you are telling them what it is like to have dementia - I think they will really listen to you and remember what you say as you are a doctor like them. I also really like the advice you give that a doctor should try to know a patient's history and family well so you will spot changes when the patient comes in. Thanks again for your post.
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