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Scott Mitchell, the husband of acting legend Barbara Windsor, has today issued a Valentine’s Day call for people to heed NHS advice and check loved ones for signs of dementia.
The couple have spoken movingly about the former EastEnders and Carry On star’s battle with the disease in an effort to raise awareness about the condition.
Dame Barbara, 81, was diagnosed with dementia in 2014 and Scott said that detecting the condition early meant that she could get the support she needed to keep working on the soap for another two years, before making a dignified exit.
He urged people to follow NHS England’s advice to ‘check your mate’ for changes such as mood swings and depression, that could be the first indication that someone has dementia, and encourage them to get checked over by their GP.
Scott Mitchell said: “It’s so important to catch the signs early enough to ensure that you, your family and your loved one receive the support available from the NHS and charities like Alzheimer’s Society, so they can face the challenges dementia creates.
“Having Barbara diagnosed early was a positive move and allowed us to adjust to her condition and, in my opinion, gave her an extra two years of being able to continue working and appearances in EastEnders which were normality to her and to live life as fully as possible.
“So this Valentine’s Day, I’m urging you all to support a loved one if they are acting out of character and if you’re worried, gently suggest they visit their GP and receive the care and support they deserve.”
NHS England dementia expert Professor Alistair Burns said that while emotional changes and forgetfulness are often put down to ageing, they could also be early warning signs of something more serious.
Dementia workers are among the army of new staff being recruited to work with GPs as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, which will see an extra £4.5 billion ploughed into primary and community care.
Investment in new technology like location trackers will help people with dementia to live securely at home, while additional support for older people’s health includes GPs being given guidance on mental ill health among those over 65.
NHS England is also supporting Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Connect programme offering advice and support to families.
As well as mood swings and depression, other signs to look out for include repeating questions, poor concentration, getting confused in new situations and not being able to use everyday gadgets and appliances such as the TV remote control.
Professor Alistair Burns, NHS England’s national clinical director for dementia and older people’s mental health said: “As relationships progress over a number of years, loved ones can change and develop habits that we often put down to signs of ageing.
“Symptoms often develop very slowly so it is easy to regard them as being a normal part of getting older, but this is not always the case.
“Dementia is a condition that develops slowly and often goes unnoticed in people we know intimately. If you think your partner has been feeling down or is showing signs of confusion, gently and sensitively suggest that they see their GP.
“Getting a diagnosis – whether it is for depression or dementia – is the first step in accessing the best help and support.”
Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Someone develops dementia every three minutes, but a third of these people don’t get a diagnosis. NHS support for our Dementia Connect service should mean that no one has to face this devastating disease alone – but we can’t reach people if we don’t know who or where they are.
“Forgetting which flowers are your favourite or burning the special Valentine’s Day meal is by no means a symptom of dementia, but if you have memory concerns for yourself or a loved one, the best thing to do is contact your GP. It can be tough to start that conversation, but everyone with dementia has a right to know, and getting a diagnosis opens the door to vital care and support.”
Family doctors can provide reassurance and ensure people get the treatment and support they need.
Awareness raising by NHS England has helped to diagnose over 175,000 more people with dementia over the last few years.
This means people with dementia and their families can access support.
In England it is estimated that around 676,000 people have dementia and one-in-three of us will care for someone with the disease at some point in our lives.
While it mainly affects people over 65, for some, dementia can develop earlier, presenting different issues for the person affected, their carer and their family.
The condition, that costs the country £26 billion a year, is a key priority for NHS England, which has set the target of making this the best country in the world for dementia care and support for individuals with dementia, their carers and families to live, as well as the best place in the world to undertake research into these conditions.