Following my re-election in May this year, many friends and colleagues were surprised when I stood down as Leader of the Labour Group, so that I could spend more time supporting and raising the profile of Alzheimer’s sufferers. One of those sufferers being my husband Jim who had retired from his role as county and borough councillor when his memory began to fail him.
I was incredibly proud of Jim for making his plight so public in an attempt to break down the stigma of dementia in all its forms. As he so rightly says, it does not matter if you are a duke or a dustman it can happen to you.
Since this time, I am delighted to say that several initiatives have begun both locally and nationally, the Governments scheme to train one million Dementia Friend Volunteers so that they can recognise the signs of these diseases in friends and family, and in so doing urge them to seek early diagnosis and support. Jim had this done two years ago, and despite the huge shock and distress of receiving the devastating diagnosis we are still living a full, active and happy life.
We have just returned from a three and half week holiday to the US and Canada exploring new countries and places and meeting new people. Seeing the Statue of Liberty close up and visiting Ellis Island where thousands of immigrants went for entry to the US. Don’t let anyone tell you, life stops, it goes on and you must take every opportunity that comes your way.
No one knows how long it will be for the disease to develop, but we are more prepared now, and new and exciting plans to turn Crawley into a Dementia friendly town have just won £125,000 of grant funding to put these plans in actions. If you think a friend or family member is having memory problems, or changes in their personality, encourage them to see their GP and get referred to a specialist. Don’t be embarrassed and don’t hide away life goes on with dementia, it is just slightly different.