Yorkshire celebrities are reliving their heartbreaking personal experiences with dementia to back a national campaign to reduce the stigma about the condition.
Chat show royalty Sir Michael Parkinson, from Cudworth, near Barnsley, and Sheffield-born World Cup-winning former England goalkeeper Gordon Banks are also encouraging people who think they have symptoms to seek medical advice.
New research from Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) found that a quarter of people hide their diagnosis because of negative connotations surrounding dementia.
Launched today on World Alzheimer’s Day, the campaign also hopes to highlight signs of dementia, which is caused by diseases of the brain, such as short term memory loss, problems with reasoning and unexplained anxiety or depression.
Sir Michael, whose mother struggled with the condition, said: “The ultimate problem you have to face with anyone who has any form of dementia is that you lose them before they die.
“I lost my mother 18 months to a year before she died and that is the ultimate desperate tragedy.”
Research by the ADI also found that three quarters of people and 64 per cent of carers believe that there are negative associations for those diagnosed with dementia.
The report, based on a survey of 2,500 sufferers and carers from 50 countries, also found that two-fifths of people say they have been avoided or treated differently because they have dementia.
Banks, whose brother David suffered from the condition, said: “We sat in the lounge talking to him and we would ask him a question and he would just go blank – he wouldn’t answer it – he couldn’t remember what we were discussing.”
Broadcaster Fiona Phillips, whose parents both had dementia, is also among those backing the campaign nationally and feels if her mother had been diagnosed earlier, she could have handled the situation better.
“I would have been able to plan more for mum instead of doing everything in a big rush,” she said.
“Our house always smelt of baking when we were little and I used to love helping mum make cakes and there were always cakes in the tin.
“She rung me up at 3am one morning crying her eyes out and she said, ‘I’ve forgotten how to make cakes’. And my childhood went then.”
The new initiative is part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to help change people’s understanding of dementia.
Ministers hope it will raise awareness of the condition, what initial signs and symptoms look like and how to seek help.
Mr Cameron said: “Dementia is a devastating disease that puts enormous strain on people and their families.
“Shockingly, nearly 400,000 people are unaware that they have the condition and so we want to make sure more people know what dementia is and how to spot those tell-tale signs.
“With the number of sufferers set to rise in the years ahead, I am determined that we go much further and faster on dementia.
“That’s why I launched a Challenge on Dementia in March, doubling the research budget and working across society to improve health and care, and supporting people to live well with the condition.”
The UK’s dementia research charity has also pledged to give £5.5m to fund scientists researching the condition.
Alzheimer’s Research UK said the money will go towards 52 new grants aimed at understanding the causes of dementia, improving diagnosis and finding new treatments and preventions.
Around 800,000 people have dementia in the UK and numbers will increase significantly in coming decades.
Marc Wortmann, executive director at ADI, added: “The disease has a huge impact on the families that are hit, but also affects health and social systems because of the economic cost.
“Countries are not prepared and will continue not to be prepared unless we overcome the stigma and enhance efforts to provide better care for those who have dementia and find a cure for the future.”
Visit www.alz.co.uk for details.