TV blog: The Truth About Dementia

Benjie Goodhart / 12 May 2016

This week’s TV highlights include Angela Rippon’s documentary about dementia, plus the first of a new series about weight loss and more.

The Truth About Dementia, Thursday 19th May, 9pm, BBC One

A handful of weeks ago, Angela Rippon made a two-part documentary about how to stave off the effects of old age on both the body and the brain. Now she’s back with a documentary about dementia. 

Angela, 71, lost her mother to Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. In that respect, she is by no means unusual. In the UK, 850,000 people have dementia, a figure that is expected to rise to two million by 2050.

Related: Read our review of How To Stay Young

Angela, 71, lost her mother to Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. In that respect, she is by no means unusual. In the UK, 850,000 people have dementia, a figure that is expected to rise to two million by 2050.

Jennifer is a former doctor who lives in a retirement community, where she runs daily exercises for residents to help slow down the advancing effects of dementia. She oversees with benign efficiency a programme of puzzles based around reading, writing and maths. It’s an impressive level of dedication for someone already retired, but the extraordinary thing about Jennifer is that she has had Alzheimer’s for over a decade.

Some days, she can’t even remember basic tasks like how to make a cup of tea or flush a loo. Fortunately, she has pinned up around her house cards, which she can scan with her iPad, which will produce a video showing her how to complete the task. It’s a brilliant solution – provided the thing she forgets isn’t how to use her iPad.

Related: Read our article about the innovative techniques used with dementia patients as shown on Horizon

Angela visits the Queen’s Square Brain Bank (the one bank where it’s very definitely not in your long term interests to make a deposit) to learn more about the disease. A scientist there shows her the brain of someone who had suffered from dementia, and compares it to a healthy brain. Well, obviously as healthy as it can be. What with it being on a table in a lab… The difference in appearance is shocking.

By her mid-80s, Angela will have a one-in-five chance of developing Alzheimer’s. She goes for a test to establish whether she carries a gene which will increase that likelihood tenfold. 

With so many suffering from this unspeakably cruel condition, finding a cure for dementia is one of the great scientific challenges of our time. Angela meets those searching for a cure – and the courageous subjects who are helping with that search. In the meantime, we wait. But, as this programme reveals, there are steps we can all take to limit the likelihood of the disease’s advance.

Weight for Love, Wednesday 18th May, 8pm, BBC One

Obesity is one of the weightier problems facing our society (along with an ageing population, a creaking NHS, pension deficit, global warming, eternal recession, inequality, religious fundamentalism, terrorism, political extremism, junior doctors striking, and the fact that they changed the recipe for Creme Eggs).

We’re regularly told, on the news, that the British people are heavier than ever, the report illustrated by those shots of blissfully unaware overweight people walking down the street, with their faces pixelated out. I can’t be the only one who worries, every time I see that, that someone out there is sitting watching the news, when the realisation suddenly hits them – “Holy cow! That’s me! I really need to stop wearing leggings.”

Any-old-hoo, the concept of this new four-part series is predicated on the fact that obesity problems begin and end at home. A poor or excessively large diet, and a lack of exercise, can often mean that couples can gain weight together, and become trapped in a co-dependent and enabling cycle of overeating. So TV psychologist and all-round good egg Tanya Byron has come up with a plan. Separate the couples for ten weeks, start them on the road to fitness, explore the reasons behind their overeating, and tackle the problem individually to break the unhealthy habits that have crept into the relationship.

Tonight’s episode involves Phil and Becky from Warrington. In the four years since they met, Becky has put on three stone. Phil has put on a whopping ten stone. Chief among the explanations for this are an addiction to fizzy drinks. And I’m not talking Perrier. They drink gallons of the stuff. Phil should be sponsored by Coca Cola, although I imagine the company would prefer not to have their message emblazoned across 24-stone of tummy.

The two are given a medical assessment. It’s pretty much as you’d expect. Becky is 17-stone, has asthma, smokes, and needs to lose five stone. But compared to Phil, she’s Mo Farrah. Phil becomes breathless with even the mildest exercise, and has dangerously high blood pressure. The peppy, enthusiastic (and rather brilliant) fitness expert Rick looks like he might cry. Phil actually does so.

Mind you, things soon pick up for Phil. He’s spending the next ten weeks staying with a friend. Becky is stuck at home with the kids. Kerching! That’s seventy lie-ins right there, Phil! Except it’s time for the hard work to begin. And, thankfully, Phil seems to be taking the message on board. He’s drinking at the Last Chance Saloon, and he needs to put down the fizzy pop and step away from the counter.

When he does so, it’s fair to say, the results are extraordinary.

Related: Worried about weight? Visit our weight loss section

The best and the rest

Saturday 14th May

Eurovision 2016, 8pm, BBC One: The campest day of the year is upon us again, as 26 acts of consistently comedic awfulness battle sing their hearts out, before everyone votes for their geopolitical allies anyway.

Sunday 15th May

Let’s Do It: A Tribute to Victoria Wood, 7:30pm, ITV: National treasure is a phrase thrown about with gay abandon. But sometimes it is still apt. RIP, Victoria. You were brilliant, as this tribute will doubtless remind us.

Related: Read our archive Q&A with Victoria Wood

The Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebration, 8:35pm, ITV: The Queen must be delighted that she gets to celebrate this august milestone in the company of Ant and Dec, Kylie Minogue, Gary Barlow and others.

Indian Summers, 9pm, Channel 4: The visually stunning and intriguing historical drama comes to an untimely end with this last ever episode. The 17 of us still watching, however, will miss it hugely, particularly Julie Walters’ tour de force.

Related: Read our review of Indian Summers

Louis Theroux: A Different Brain, 9pm, BBC Two: Another sensitive and intelligent feature-length documentary from Theroux, whose guileless empathy and honest approach to his subject matter reaps rewards. Tonight, he meets some of the million people in the UK living with the long-term effects of a brain injury.

Monday 16th May

The Great British Sewing Bee, 9pm, BBC Two: Is there anything that can’t be turned into a TV competition? The Great British Sleep Off? Celebrity Dishwasher Stacking? Britain’s Got People Who Can Unblock Drains? Anyway, the sewing bee is back. I will not be watching.

24 Hours in A&E, 9pm, Channel 4: Hurrah. My mum’s favourite TV show returns. Tonight’s series-opener looks at a couple of older patients. Quietly powerful stuff.

Tuesday 17th May

Locked Up, 10pm, Channel 4: We’ve had Scandi-noir thrillers. Now it’s time for one from Spain (Spandi-noir?) with this fast-paced tale of an innocent woman, framed and locked up.

Wednesday 18th May

Not much. Sit in the garden. Make a stew. Clean out the potting shed.

Related: Visit our Home & Garden section for inspiration

Thursday 19th May

Paxman in Brussels: Who Really Rules Us? 8pm, BBC One: Our Jezza wrestles with the European issue. The European issue begs for mercy.

Living with Quads, 9pm, ITV: Four families reveal the ins and outs of life with quadruplets. Presumably this is just an hour of parents sobbing softly.

Friday 20th May

Love, Nina, 9:30pm, BBC One: Nick Hornby adapts Nina Stibbe’s charming epistolary memoir into a five part series starring Helena Bonham-Carter and Faye Marsay. Should be absolutely charming.

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