This post is by Nicola O’Connor - our amazing UX & Content Strategy Manager
My Mum’s dementia symptoms started 10 years ago. Her short term memory went first and with it her independence. She couldn’t drive, use the phone, turn on the TV, take her medication. She’d unpack her shopping and put it in the oven, walk to her exercise class and forget where she was going. She’d get lost in familiar places and forget familiar faces. When those included her home and her own adored children and grandchildren, we made the decision to move her into a nursing home, taking away her liberty. One of her sisters and my Grandmother suffered the same fate. Her other sister is now in the throes of it too.
There are around a million people in the UK affected by dementia, and for each of those people, there are many more family members and friends dealing with the impact of this devastating condition. My Mum is in the advanced stages of the disease, barely living. She has needed round the clock care in a nursing home for the past 6.5 years as we’ve watched dementia take every part of who she was.
It’s fair to say, I live with some considerable anxiety about what that means for my future and the inevitability of experiencing something similar. When it comes to the women of my family, dementia, it seems, doesn’t skip a beat. In the absence of any recommended screening or prevention strategies, I’ve dealt with this anxiety in a number of ways; I’ve stuck my head in the sand, researched living wills and even thought about moving to the Netherlands (where citizens are afforded more choice in decisions concerning their own end of life). I’ve even had my own genome sequenced, but I haven’t looked at the results. Regular talking therapy is my anchor and helps me deal with the ongoing grief of losing Mum while she’s still here, as well as reminding me to find gratitude in each day and to stop trying to control the future.
But it turns out that there’s a chance my future cognitive decline might not be quite as scary as I thought. According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, people in their 40s and 50s should start looking after their brains, as they may be able to reduce their risk of developing dementia. They’ve launched the Think Brain Health Check-in to encourage those of us in our ‘midlife’ (or prime of life as we like to think of it) to stay sharp, keep active and connect with others.
Research shows that there are 12 health and lifestyle factors we might be able to do something about that could avoid 4 in 10 of us developing memory loss, confusion and communication problems later in life. At William Joseph we’ve been lucky enough to be part of the team, along with Alzheimer’s Research UK and Claremont Communications, that developed the Think Brain Health Check-in, an online tool that allows people to explore these risk factors and learn about brain healthy behaviours. Since its launch last week, thousands of people have already completed the check-in. The appetite for information about dementia is huge and Alzheimer’s Research UK are leading the charge in meeting that need and in funding powerful research initiatives to find new ways to treat the disease.
Even with my family history, it does feel like a time of real hope. Decades of research are starting to pay dividends in the form of new drugs that have been shown to slow the progression of the disease. This is the progress that families like mine have been desperately waiting for. And with the Think Brain Health campaign, the charity are mobilising everyone to make simple changes to their own lives right now, action that might just protect them against dementia in the future.
Working on this project has been a professional treat but it’s also helped me on a personal level change the way I think about dementia. The fear and anxiety are receding, replaced by a motivation to focus on what I can control and a desire to be part of the change. With that, I recently had my blood pressure and cholesterol checked, started regularly swimming outdoors, and am taking on the London Marathon this April.
And who am I running for? Well, for my Mum of course. The very best Mum that ever there was. And for Alzheimer’s Research UK (you can donate here). Call it an investment in the future, which I feel might just have a decent return.
Give your brain some love and explore brain healthy behaviours with the Think Brain Health Check-in.