My dementia diagnosis was key to unlocking support, says Alastair Stewart

Alastair says his wife Sally and their four children are his ‘rocks’ (Image: Alastair Stewart)

Veteran newsreader Alastair Stewart is backing calls for urgent action to ensure thousands of people with dementia can access the vital support he received after his diagnosis.

Writing in the Daily Express, Alastair, 71, revealed how vascular dementia has impacted his life – from struggles with technology to dramatic lifestyle changes.

And he told of his “heartbreak” at seeing his wife Sally, with whom he shares four children, take on the role of his carer.

The former Channel 4, ITV and GB News presenter wrote: “My wife of 45 years, Sally, first noticed that something was amiss in 2022 when I could no longer read the time on an analogue clock, nor tie my laces or fasten my belt.

“The loss of these basic things felt confusing. It felt – and still feels – humiliating.

READ MORE: Dementia warning as these 13 common habits many of us do could increase risk

Alastair on GB News

Alastair (right) revealed he now struggles with technology (Image: Alastair Stewart)

“Technology has become a challenge too. I struggle with remembering my passwords or individual letters for security questions…And as we become an increasingly technology dependent society, I worry that it will become a barrier for me as my condition progresses.”

Alastair publicly revealed his diagnosis last September. Scans also showed he had suffered a series of minor strokes.

He has since overhauled his lifestyle to quit smoking and drinking alcohol, walks his dogs twice a day and keeps his mind active with reading.

Describing his wife and children as “my rocks”, the broadcaster added: “Looking after our two wonderful grandchildren is also a wonderful tonic.”

Alastair shared the update to mark the start of Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Action Week, which will highlight the fact that around one in three people living with the brain-wasting condition do not have a formal diagnosis.

Stethoscope and Human Brain Model

Alzheimer’s Society is calling for action to boost diagnosis rates (Image: Getty)

He said his own diagnosis “provided such clarity”, adding: “I cannot stress the importance of getting a diagnosis enough.

“It’s the key to unlocking care, support and treatment – something which has made a massive difference to me, my future prognosis and my family.”

Alzheimer’s Society research published on Monday reveals that dementia now costs the UK around £42 billion every year – and that figure is expected to soar to £90 billion by 2040.

Around 900,000 people in the UK are estimated to have some form of dementia. The UK’s ageing population means that is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

Research by Carnall Farrar Ltd, using the records of 26,000 people over seven years, found those with the condition and their families shouldered 63 percent of all associated costs.

As the disease progresses, total costs typically rise from £29,000 per year for mild illness to £81,000 for severe, Alzheimer’s Society said.

It added that, despite evidence of benefits of identifying the condition early, spending on diagnosis makes up less than 1.4 percent of the total dementia health care expenditure.

Those lacking a diagnosis could also miss out on access to new drugs, including two promising medicines targeting toxic brain proteins which are being reviewed by UK regulators.

Line of Duty star Vicky McClure, an ambassador for the charity, called for more to be done to help those with symptoms discover the root cause.

She said: “Dementia can absolutely devastate families in so many ways but receiving an early diagnosis can be a lifeline for people to access the vital treatment and care they desperately need.

“People showing signs of dementia, those now living with the condition and the people that love and care for them are being forgotten – it has become the UK’s forgotten crisis despite dementia being the UK’s biggest killer.

“I’ve seen first-hand the challenges families face before and after a diagnosis and having supported Alzheimer’s Society to push for change for many years, it breaks my heart that we’re stuck in the same place with hundreds of thousands of people still undiagnosed.”

Elderly woman putting pills into pill box for the week.

Those without a diagnosis could miss out on potential treatments (Image: Getty)

The number of people needing unpaid care from friends and family is also expected to rise dramatically.

Alzheimer’s Society is calling on the Government to increase access to early and accurate diagnosis to prevent families reaching “costly, avoidable crisis point”.

The charity’s CEO, Kate Lee, said: “One in three people born today will develop dementia.

“It’s the biggest health and care issue of our time, yet it isn’t the priority it should be amongst decision-makers. We wouldn’t accept this for any other terminal disease, we shouldn’t accept this for dementia.”

The diagnostic shortfall means too many families are “facing dementia alone”, Ms Lee added.

“If we don’t address diagnosis, we have no hope of addressing the major dementia challenges we face and reducing the cost to the health service and wider economy,” she said.

“Dementia’s devastating impact is colossal – on the lives of those it affects, on the healthcare system and on the economy.

“Now is the time to prioritise dementia, and that starts with getting more people diagnosed.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Timely diagnosis of dementia is vital, which is why we’re working to identify and treat more people and provide potential new treatments as they become available.

“We’re also doubling funding for dementia research to £160 million a year by the end of 2024/25, and dementia is one of six major conditions included in our upcoming Major Conditions Strategy.”

Paul and Sandy

Paul feels wife Sandy has been « written off » since her diagnosis (Image: Paul Kemp)

‘I feel my wife has been written off since her dementia diagnosis’

A carer who gave up work to support his wife with young-onset Alzheimer’s says he feels she has been “written off” after waiting two years for a diagnosis.

Sandy Kemp, 56, was working as a live-in carer when she forgot how to use a key piece of equipment and had to call an ambulance.

Further signs that something was seriously wrong included difficulty with telling the time and counting. After around two years of visits to the doctor and tests, her diagnosis was finally confirmed in July 2020.

Sandy’s husband Paul, 57, said: “I’m pretty sure that if she had access to a diagnosis and medication at an earlier stage it may have helped a lot more. We could have prepared ourselves a lot better for what was coming.”

The couple, of Rochester in Kent, married 13 years ago and have four children.

Despite Sandy’s diagnosis, they have struggled to access guidance and understand what support is available.

Paul and Sandy

Paul gave up work to care for Sandy full time (Image: Paul Kemp)

Her communication is now minimal and she is completely reliant on Paul, who gets two five-hour sessions of respite care provided by Age UK each week.

He said: “It takes your dignity away, in some ways, because it’s not only Sandy who lives with the disease. I have to live with it every day with her.

“I’ve had to become a much more selfless person. My friends, my hobbies – I’ve let them go because I’ve got to focus on what she needs.”

When the couple fell into debt, Paul was forced to sell personal items including a collection of model railway trains, fishing equipment and tools.

He said: “If you’ve got a mortgage, it’s not fair. I feel like I’m penalised because we owned our own house.

“When the cost of living crisis hit, it didn’t really affect us because we’d been in it for two or three years before that anyway.”

Devoted Paul described Sandy as “a ray of sunshine” who could light up a party and talk to anyone.

He said he did not mind putting his life on the back burner to look after her, but added: “The care system needs to pay attention. I feel like sometimes Sandy has just been written off.”

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