THE prospect of an politician having his brain removed could be regarded as a bit of a joke - but David Blunkett is very serious about it.
After his death, the Sheffield MP is donating his brain - at least a part of it - to help research into dementia.
As vice-president of the Alzheimer’s Society, he is well aware of a rapidly growing elderly population, many of whom will develop dementia, changing not only their lives, but those of family and friends who care for them.
Mr Blunkett is keen to do his bit to help find a cure for the disease. “If dementia is not to become the ‘Big D’ to match that of the fear we have of the ‘Big C’ then we need to understand more, fear less and prepare a great deal better,” he said.
The MP has joined a research scheme in which brain tissue of volunteers is tested regularly from the age of 65, and their brain is donated when they die.
Having celebrated his 65th birthday in June means he can fully participate in the Brains for Dementia project, which compares the brains of people with and without the illness. “In giving my brain to medical science, what researchers need from me is to gradually test over the years ahead what happens to my memory,” he said.
“After my death, and with the permission of my wife, a sliver - yes, I am afraid it won’t be the whole of the brain - will be taken to do the necessary tests to identify what in physical terms has happened, and how this accords with the many others who have been prepared to offer to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust their cooperation in the longitudinal research that is now being undertaken.”
Mr Blunkett is renowned for having one of the sharpest memories in the Commons - and it was in evidence when he was previously a social services chairman in Sheffield, whose responsibilities included tackling a growing mental health problem among the local elderly, before becoming leader of the council.
There is no family history of dementia. The former Education and Home Secretary was encouraged to help with research by his GP wife, Margaret, and a political recognition of the consequences of addressing harsh facts.
According to Alzheimer’s Society, there are currently 800,000 people with dementia in the UK, with this figure expected to rise to more than 1m by 2021.
Many family members are often the first to identify dementia symptoms and try to care for loved ones as long as they’re able, but struggle to find the basic information and guidance.
Mr Blunkett, for Brightside and Hillsborough, said: “Enormous progress has been made on dementia. The Coalition Government are committed to carrying that forward, although the £20bn that has to be ‘saved’ from the budget in the next three years puts every service under pressure.
“Those areas with emerging need, where for instance the requirement for the expansion of Memory Clinics is vital, feel the pinch most of all because, of course, if you haven’t got the services in place you are fighting to obtain money that others wish to hang on to.
“Let us hope that the work of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and the developments that have taken place over the years in helping both individuals and their families to cope with early signs of dementia can be built upon for the future.”
Meanwhile he points to the need for “excellent, well planned residential provision with excellently trained staff and proper outreach services to give carers a break. Ensuring that they themselves don’t become the victims must be our prime task.”