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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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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Dear Afzal I would like to thank you for what you are doing to help the medical students understand how they can help not only from your ex professional capacity but also now as a sufferer of dementia. I recently lost my dad who had vascular dementia so would like to thank you on my families behalf as well. Take care..
I also have Alzheimer's Disease, and I'm participating in a research programme that aims to produce new drugs to defeat it. By working together we can look forward to a future in which this horrible scourge disappears for good!
Afzal, you are an inspiration to us all. Thank you.
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.