Oliver Sacks’s closest friend and schoolmate Jonathan Miller died of dementia in 2019. The photo above shows them together in New York City. In a new five-part series from BBC Sounds, William Miller, Jonathan Miller’s son, and neurologist Jules Montague go into the homes of people with rare dementias, to discover that dementia is not what we think it is.
It’s a common misconception that dementia is a condition that only affects memory – but Alzheimer’s is only one form of dementia, there are many more. Because the symptoms of rare dementias can be so atypical, often in younger people, those with rare dementias wait twice as long for a diagnosis and a third are initially misdiagnosed.
The symptoms of these dementias go far beyond memory loss. William and Jules meet a man who hallucinates cats and rabbits in his living room, a novelist who is losing her words, a former teacher who cannot see what’s right in front of her, and a family struggling with a genetic legacy that has defined their past and could determine their future.
Dr Jules Montague is a dementia specialist, and William has personal experience of its impact having cared for his father, theatre director Jonathan Miller, who died of Alzheimer’s in 2019. Together they explore the science behind the symptoms and the poignant and extraordinary ways in which families navigate their lives as a result of these conditions.
In the first episode, released 10 April 2023, they meet Geraint and his wife Jacqui. In 2020 Geraint received a diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia – or FTD – which results in a profound transformation in behaviour and personal identity.
Details of organisations offering information and support with dementia are available at the BBC Action Line here.
Producer: Eve Streeter
Original music: A Brief Encounter by Max Walter
A Raconteur production for BBC Radio 4
Photo of Oliver Sacks and Jonathan Miller by Tom Miller.