A HEXHAM-BORN actor has spoken of his mother's dementia diagnosis during Dementia Action Week (May 16-22).

It comes after a new Alzheimer’s Society survey found over one in three (35 per cent) people with dementia in the North-East battled with the condition for more than two years after first noticing symptoms before getting a diagnosis.

The survey of more than 1,000 people with dementia and carers also showed a further 25 per cent of respondents in the area waited between one and two years.

One of the main reasons for delay according to 41 per cent of respondents in the North-East, was that they assumed the symptoms were just part of getting old.

READ MORE: https://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/news/20134277.opinion-impact-dementia/

Alzheimer’s Society has now launched a new campaign – ‘It’s not called getting old, it’s called getting ill’ – to encourage people worried about their own or their loved ones’ memory to seek support in getting a diagnosis.

The charity has worked closely with leading clinicians to make the diagnosis process easier, developing a new symptoms checklist.

Actor Kevin Whately says his mum Mary, who died with dementia in 2009, aged, 83, began displaying symptoms at least two years before she was diagnosed.

The Lewis and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star, who has been an Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador since 2007, said: “It started with little things like leaving a pot on the hob to burn or forgetting where she had parked her car.

“Mum was a former teacher and a bright, intelligent person, so we had a feeling something wasn’t quite right and that it wasn’t just old age, but she would always get quite defensive if anyone mentioned her forgetfulness.

“She had been widowed from the age of 43 and was very independent. I had moved to the south, as had my brother and two sisters, so we didn’t see her all the time, and in a way, that made it easier for us to notice how her behaviour had changed from the person we knew.

“You could see how she was losing her confidence and becoming depressed, which had never been the case when she was a younger woman. We tried to persuade her to move south, but she was having none of it. She loved Northumberland.

“Whenever I visited her, I’d find an excuse to get her to drive me into Hexham to make sure she was capable and not a danger to herself or others – and also that she could remember where she’d parked the car afterwards.

“There was also a lovely neighbour who kept a close eye on her, so she was able to continue living at home for quite some time. But it all came to a crisis point one day when the neighbour found her wandering around in her nightie on a frosty morning shouting for her dog, who had been long dead.

“It was after this incident that a specialist told us she could no longer live on her own and, after trying and failing to find a suitable care home in the Tyne Valley, we found somewhere for her in the south, closer to us.”

Kevin said his mum’s greatest fear on being diagnosed was the prospect of losing her driving licence and, with it, her independence.

He added: “The diagnosis was, for mum, undoubtedly scary, but in a way, it came as a relief to us. It meant that we at least knew for sure what we were dealing with and could make plans for the future.”

Danielle Cooper, area manager for Alzheimer’s Society in the North-East, said: “Asking the same question over and over again is not called getting old, it’s called getting ill. If you’re worried for yourself or someone you love, take the first step this Dementia Action Week – come to Alzheimer’s Society for support.

“The stark findings of our survey show just how dangerous it can be to battle dementia symptoms alone and put off getting help.

“Yes, getting a diagnosis can be daunting, but it is worth it. More than nine in 10 people with dementia told us they benefited from getting a diagnosis – it gave them crucial access to treatment, care and support, and precious time to plan for the future.

“With the pandemic causing diagnosis rates to plunge, it’s more important than ever to seek help. You don’t have to face dementia alone, we’re here to support everyone affected.”

The Alzheimer’s Society’s survey also revealed more than one in three (35 per cent) of those who were diagnosed after two years finally sought a diagnosis because their symptoms were no longer manageable.

There are 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK, including an estimated 39,080 in the North East.

Alzheimer’s Society conducted a separate public poll which found a lack of knowledge about dementia symptoms and fear are also significant barriers to seeking help.

For support and more information about a diagnosis, visit alzheimers.org.uk/memoryloss or call 0333 150 3456.