Health News – Former Mayor tells how she was laid low by devastating form of chronic fatigue syndrome

Thursday, 8th December 2011


Published: 8 December, 2011

FORMER Islington Mayor Anna Berent has bravely confronted young vandals and even bitten a burglar. But nothing has laid her so low as her ­current illness – a form  of chronic fatigue
syndrome, or ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis).

Anna, a sprightly 85-year-old widow, expected the usual aches and pains that come with age, but not the devastating condition that until recently forced her to remain in bed at her home in Highbury.

As with ME, medical experts are not entirely sure how people get poly-myalgia rheumatic, or PMR, but they believe it is under-reported and it appears to mainly affect women over 50.

At one point Anna’s sister came to live with her for two months to care for her, and her son brought her to live with him for a month in Cambridge.

Today she is slowly recovering thanks to a regime of rest and steroids.

She is speaking out about the illness because she is helping to launch a new London-based support group and is concerned that PMR is often being mistaken by the medical profession as simply an aspect of getting old.

Anna, a former research technician in the health service, said: “I’m an extremely fit and energetic person but suddenly I was tired all the time.

I would normally take the stairs for exercise but I started looking for the lift.

“I thought: ‘If I take it easy for a few weeks I’ll be fine.’

“I managed to struggle through the last months of my Mayoralty.

Then I took to my bed and stayed there for several months, too exhausted to do anything.

“I had aching thighs and shoulders and couldn’t even raise my arms to brush my hair.”

Her GP then diagnosed the condition PMR, which is a form of muscular rheumatism.

Anna added: “I was extremely grateful to my GP because not everyone gets a correct diagnosis straight away.

“I’m able to go out to the local shop but most things have to be delivered. I’m still pretty tired but I think I’m getting better.”

Anna is not scared of confrontation, be it political or on the streets.

Three years ago she faced down a group of youths goading a Staffordshire bull terrier to strip bark off trees to toughen its jaws.

And in a previous incident, the former Mayor bit a burglar and chased him out of her home.

“The chap had got in through my bathroom window”, she recalled. “He slapped a towel across my face and told me not to make a sound.

“I had to decide whether to co-operate or do something. I decided to bite his hand, hard.

“He dropped the towel and slapped my face. But I was able to yell the house down and he ran off.”

• For further information on PMR call 0300 111 5090 or visit

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