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Headmaster’s Blog: 7 days is a long time…

Adam Williams | 3 May 2024

In mid-February 2024, BBC’s Panorama episode, ‘’Alzheimer’s: A Turning Point?’’ focused on the potential arrival of two new breakthrough treatments for this pernicious disease.

 

Iecanemab and donanemab are both drugs that have been shown to slow the progression of the early stages of the illness, which 60 million people worldwide currently suffer, with 1 million in the UK – expected to rise to 1.7 million by 2024. In 2022, dementia took the lives of 66,000 people in England and Wales. It is now the leading cause of death in Britain, with Alzheimer’s accounting for two-thirds of the cases. Neither drug has a licence yet – though decisions are being made soon. And as recently as April this year, thousands of UK folk will take part in two blood test trials that will help revolutionise the low diagnosis rate. It would seem that progress is being made, which could be really good news for so many. 

 

And there is also recent news that a diabetes drug may slow the progression of Parkinson’s, with over 10 million people worldwide living with this disease. Ageing populations across the world, and notably in places like the UK, see these two diseases significantly impacting the lives of both the individuals and their wider families. Now more than ever, we (as parents) of children at LWC are the sandwich generation – looking after our parents and children alongside juggling our own ever-so-slightly complex and nuanced lives.

 

But that news of those two diseases got me thinking back to a journey I made in 2015. 

 

“Would all passengers seated in rows 40 to 55 please make your way through gate 4A for Malaysian Airlines flight 003.” I grabbed my sandwich and my hand luggage for the trip (who needs 20kg?), striding past the HSBC advertising, which I always take photographs of for future motivational lectures but never quite get round to downloading, and boarded the plane for a 14-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur. Three days earlier, and prior to the October half term, I was looking forward to catching up on emails, drilling holes in walls and practising my short game (these last two are not linked). But no; it took 240 seconds one evening when I booked a flight to Australia to visit my father, who lived in the most isolated city on the planet: Perth. 

 

And so there I sat with a coffee in hand looking out on the exquisite white sands of Cottesloe beach towards the setting sun over the Indian Ocean and Rottnest Island on the horizon. Waves that had travelled 5000 miles constructively crashed onto the shores as hundreds of folk were body surfing and leaping about in the waves whilst avoiding great white sharks and riptides, neither of which are great for your health… actually without much of an ozone layer in these parts (although it is repairing), the sun isn’t a perfect bedfellow either. And I’ll leave the sea snakes and red-back spiders for another day… 

That said, the real reason for my visit was to catch up with my father. Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are never the greatest of bedfellows, but two full days of flying and (at least) a day of jet lag made for four days of touring the old haunts which lived fresh in the memory of a mind striving to hold on to the day-to-day. It was a memory that he all too vividly remembered catching a perfect wave in 1964 at the same spot I now looked at, but was a little less sure of yesterday. And with Cottesloe and Scarborough beaches, the Darling Ranges, Rockingham, South Perth and the exquisite King’s Park visited, as well as the family’s ancestral homes from the 1950s to 1990s, it was an emotional rollercoaster and well beyond the confines of a home in a sleepy suburb that has sprawled in this fast-growing, incredibly expensive and modern, Australasian city. 

 

And here’s the thing, those four days of visiting had spanned 60 years of crystal-clear Antipodean memories before the 21 hours of flying began again. Alas, the short-term memory retention might not have been what it was, but one lived in hope that the photos, the video clips and the scribbled notes made a difference. 

 

One thing I can tell you though, the Southern Spring sun set against an azure sky felt rather good…

 

The challenge? 7 days is such a long time in one’s life, that I wonder what you can achieve within just 168 hours? 

 

And years later, as I reflect back on whether that journey made a difference to my now passed-away father, the photos and the smiles of the time would suggest they did, even for just a memorable minute in a decidedly unmemorable decade. 

 

Be courageous, be daring and settle for the exceptional. 

 

Amen to that for our incredible research scientists and medics who are finding ways to transform our lives for the better and take on the challenges of ageing. I have my fingers firmly crossed that many of our LWC pupils will find themselves in the medical world, too. For our nation needs medics and researchers with emotional intelligence, a restless curiosity, a deep-seated kindness and a desire to make a difference. All things they have in bucketloads. 

 

Yours, 

Adam

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