Dame Barbara Windsor Bravely Battles Alzheimer’s

Dame Barbara Windsor Bravely Battles Alzheimer’s

jeanniejeanniejeannie.co.uk BLOG 12th May2018


The media is full of reports about Dame Barbara Windsor.

She  is one of those rare stars who cut across the generational divide.

To some she will always be the ditsy, buxom blonde in the Carry On films. To others, she’ll remain the bottle-blonde Cockney sparrow landlady of the Queen Vic in EastEnders.

Her character, Peggy Mitchell was best known for her catchphrase: ‘Get out of my pub!’ When she’s out and about off-screen, she is constantly approached by people who want to talk to her.

There are those who know her and those who only think they know her. Having a personality that’s every bit as ebullient as her on-screen characters, Barbara has always, until recently, been happy to chat to anyone who approaches her as though they’re her oldest friend, until recently.

These days, going out into the wider world has become a growing nightmare for her. She’s found it frightening and bewildering. And people, inevitably, had started to ask questions about her wellbeing.

That is why her husband Scott Mitchell, 55, took the difficult decision to reveal what only her closest friends and family have known since 2014: Barbara has Alzheimer’s.

The news that she has this cruel, progressive illness has come as a shock to her many fans. For though she is 80 now, she has always exuded a bubbly youthfulness.

One of the few people who have been aware of her fight is Paul Bennett, a close friend for more than 30 years. ‘I spoke to Scott last week and he said she had gone downhill rapidly over the past couple of weeks,’ he said. ‘I talked to Barbara as well and she just said: “I’m not so well now.” ’

Mr Bennett says Barbara was deeply upset by the death of entertainer Dale Winton, aged 62, last month. The pair had known each other for years and were very close. ‘I think she took that quite badly,’ he says. ‘Since the diagnosis, there have been up days and down days, but I think there are more down days now than up days.

‘But she still goes out. Two weeks ago she went to see the Tina Turner musical.’ Scott says: ‘I want the public to know this, because they are naturally very drawn to Barbara and she loves talking to them.

‘So rather than me living in fear she might get confused or upset, they’ll know that if her behaviour seems strange, it’s due to Alzheimer’s and accept it for what it is.’

Ben Douglas, a PR who also runs a theatre company, ran into Barbara a year or so at a West End show and was struck by her altered behaviour.

‘She’s a lovely lady, one of those people who always has time for fans. I was having a chat with her in the foyer on this occasion when this chap came up who obviously knew her and started chatting away.

‘Normally Barbara would chat away happily back but she recoiled, she seemed alarmed, she looked at him as though she didn’t know him from Adam, and she grabbed hold of my arm and turned her back on him and said: “Let’s go over there,” and pointed to a corner.

‘She seemed confused. I thought maybe she’d had one tipple too many. But now it all makes sense.’ Barbara first noticed something was wrong in 2009 when she began having difficulty memorising her lines in EastEnders, which she joined in 1994.

And last night the devoted husband told The Sun she even forgets they are married.

‘She suddenly has no recollection of our history,’ he said. ‘She’ll look at her wedding ring and say, “Are we married?” But that’s the thing about this cruel disease, isn’t it?

‘She’s not frightened of me, so I’m thankful for that. Over the last couple of days, the conversation has turned to, “I just think it’s wonderful that you come here to look after me” – and she keeps thanking me.

She is one of around 850,000 people suffering with some form of dementia in the UK.

The majority have Alzheimer’s disease, a terminal condition affecting the brain which the 80-year-old was diagnosed with four years ago.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, which is a collective term for symptoms including problems with language and thinking, and commonly memory loss.

The hallmark of the disease is the build up in the brain of damaging clumps of proteins, known as “plaques” and “tangles”.

These buildups gradually kill the junctions between nerve cells in the brain, known as synapses, and eventually strangle the neurons themselves leading to the death of brain tissue.

Brains of people with Alzheimer’s also have much lower levels of neurotransmitter chemicals like acetylcholine, which are another important part of brain signals.

What causes Alzheimer’s?

This is still poorly understood. Scientists do not fully know what triggers the build-up of these plaques and whether they’re a symptom or cause of the disease.

However there are several factors which increase the risk, with age being the biggest, one sufferer in 20 is under the age of 65 and early onset forms of the disease can strike from around 40.

Lifestyle factors including smoking, obesity and diet are another major factor in increasing risk, and suffering a head injury, including a minor concussion, can increase the risk by as much as two-thirds.

There are twice as many women with Alzheimer’s over the age 65 as there are men and the reason for this is also not fully understood.

There are also some inherited genetic risks, and other health conditions such as having a learning disability can increase your chances of suffering from the disease.

What are its symptoms?

In many cases, the disease takes a long time to develop and can go unnoticed in older relatives making supportive treatment hard to deliver.

Often the first recognised symptoms are when once-routine tasks such as preparing a meal or taking a trip to shops become more difficult. People with the disease may get lost more easily or forget key dates or the names and faces of relatives.

Depression can be a very early sign which may occur before any physical hallmarks in the brain.

In later stages people can become non-verbal and it can cause large swings in behaviour leading to aggression and other behaviours which make caring for them at home more difficult.

Is there a cure?

There is no cure for the disease, though this is a major research area along with developing tests for earlier diagnosis.

Support is usually focused on coming to terms with the diagnosis and adapting lifestyle and care arrangements to maximise quality of life, as well as teaching coping strategies for memory.

There are drug treatments which can temporarily improve some symptoms.

In earlier stages drugs like Exelon or Reminyl can improve memory problems and concentration, typically by addressing the imbalances in neurotransmitter chemicals like acetylcholine.

In later stages drug treatments can help to address some of the more challenging symptoms such as delusions or aggression.





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