I assume that Carol Thatcher had secured her mother's agreement before she 'went public' on the Great Lady's struggle with dementia in her new book - extracts of which were featured in today's Mail on Sunday. I cannot imagine it being otherwise. So I have to declare my high admiration for what mother and daughter have done. Before many more years pass, there will be a million people in Britain suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. One of the great problems facing our nation is just how we are going to cope with this. At present, care of the elderly, particularly those with dementia does not have as high a priority with government as it should. Allowing the name of Margaret Thatcher to become associated with this disease will hugely raise its profile. I recall her great friend, Ronald Reagan, one of the greatest US Presidents ever, announcing that he was an Alzheimer's sufferer - and the way that the resulting publicity encouraged a greater openness in discussion about a disease that had been shut away in the back cupboard.
I remember being in a similar position myself, though at a level of significance rather lower than that of Mrs Thatcher, when I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer. It was another of those diseases that people thought should not be discussed in polite society. This reluctance to discuss bowel problems still costs a huge number of lives. Unlike Alzheimer's, early diagnosis often enables complete recovery. I decided to go public about it. I worked with the BBC on a short report which was broadcast on the eve of my operation, which involved what's termed a lower bowel resection. It was rather unusual for such a programme to be broadcast before the surgery. I've never been able to watch it myself, but I'm told it was quite powerful stuff - mainly because of the timing. I did receive several hundreds of cards from people thanking me for putting Bowel Cancer on the map - bringing it out of the closet you might say. I don't think my family liked the publicity at all.
But back to Carol Thatcher's revelations. Many of us will be shocked that someone so seemingly indestructible can be so afflicted. It demonstrates that dementia can strike down anyone. Tonight we are all a little more aware of the problems that arise when it happens. Let us hope that the advance of the disease is slow. Yet again, in an entirely new and unexpected way, Mrs Margaret Thatcher has been of service to the British people.