'The gift of a new life': Lowestoft gran with dementia symptoms cured by Addenbrooke's clinic

  • Jackie and Clive Middleditch told ITV News Anglia's Rob Setchell about her incredible recovery

A grandmother who feared she had dementia says she has been given her life back after doctors discovered it was actually a treatable condition.

When Jackie Middleditch, from Lowestoft, began to struggle to walk and remember things her family were convinced she had Alzheimer's disease.

But eventually a hospital scan revealed she was suffering from a build-up of fluid in her brain, and an operation was able to fix the problem, returning her to good health.

Now Mrs Middleditch and her husband Clive hope others will also go on to be correctly diagnosed, after the opening of a new dedicated clinic at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

It was the beginning of 2016 when the formerly fit and active grandmother started to go downhill. She was struggling to walk and began to have problems remembering and organising things.

Mr Middleditch said: "They called it glue feet. She had a very slow shuffle and couldn't walk very well at all.

"Then her short-term memory started going. When you ask what happened Jackie finds it hard to remember as she wasn't really aware of what was going on at the time."

Tasks such as cooking a roast dinner became impossible because Mrs Middleditch could not stand for long or process the tasks required.

Battery of tests

Eventually she had to have a wheelchair. It would take her 15-20 minutes to get out of a chair, she had no energy and would sleep through large parts of the day.

"Our daughter thought it was a form of dementia. Sadly [we] did think that because no one was coming up with any answers," said Mr Middleditch.

Now Jackie is able to tend her garden again Credit: ITV Anglia

It was not until his wife had a bad fall that doctors began to question what was going on with her health.

"I had a fall, a really bad fall, then they discovered there was a problem with not just my memory but everything, really," said Mrs Middleditch.

Medics at the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston began to run a battery of tests on her and she was soon referred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

A test on her spine revealed a build-up of fluid in the brain indicative of a condition called normal pressure hydrocephalus - often mistaken for Alzheimer's because of the memory loss it causes.

However unlike dementia, the condition is treatable. 'Shunt surgery' can even completely reverse it, by inserting a valve and tube into the brain and diverting the fluid elsewhere.

Pioneering clinic

At Addenbrooke's Hospital, they have launched a pioneering clinic to diagnose and treat people with a disease which is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed.

The new clinic is part of the Reversible Dementia (Revert) project, a cross-border collaboration between the UK and France that is led by the University of Cambridge and aims to share best practice internationally.

The team, headed by consultant neurosurgeon and Revert clinical lead Mr Alexis Joannides, consists of a clinical neuropsychologist, a specialist physiotherapist, an advanced nurse specialist, and a service co-ordinator.

Patients attending the one-stop clinic get an initial assessment that includes a medical consultation, memory test and walking test.

The clinic is the first step on the pathway to diagnose NPH, and those thought to have the condition go on to have advanced diagnostics including a lumbar infusion study and specialised brain MRI.

Clinical Lead Alexis Joannides said his team were incredibly proud of what they had achieved and how they had helped patients Credit: ITV Anglia

Mr Joannides said: "This diagnosis is not often considered as a likely option, so we're trying to improve recognition and awareness of this and then we can progress things from there.

"So as part of this clinic we can identify which of these people with the right symptoms and the right scan are likely to be benefit from potential treatment."

The Hydrocephalus Association estimates that nearly 700,000 adults have the condition - but fewer than 20% are properly diagnosed.

The gift of a new life

Mrs Middleditch said she felt like a completely different person and could now move quickly again. She has been able to get rid of her walking stick, play with her grandchildren and go for long walks.

She said: "What they have done is amazing. I just feel better. They have given me the gift of a new life."

Mr Middleditch said: "There could be people who for years have been suffering with what everyone thought was Alzheimer's - and it's this.

"But it's back like how we imagined retirement would be now. We can go on our holidays."

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