Speaking up for the forgotten

BARBARA Pointon's long-running campaign to raise awareness of Alzheimer's disease has been helped by one of the UK's leading care and research charities. The Alzheimer's Society is for the first time running a national TV advertisement that raises awarene

BARBARA Pointon's long-running campaign to raise awareness of Alzheimer's disease has been helped by one of the UK's leading care and research charities. The Alzheimer's Society is for the first time running a national TV advertisement that raises awareness for an illness that is said to have been ignored and misunderstood. Barbara, who supplies the voice-over for the advert, said: "Alzheimer's isn't just about a person becoming forgetful and confused. "It is, in fact, a lot more than that. It shuts down every aspect of their life, from speech, movement, to even thinking for themselves. "So it is important that people are made aware." For the advert, Barbara, 66, of Thriplow, uses a script that mirrors her personal experiences. Her husband, Malcolm, has suffered from Alzheimer's since December 1991, when he was 51. Malcolm is one of 750,000 people who suffer from a degenerative illness, and one that has rapidly overtaken cancer to become the country's second biggest killer, behind heart disease. Viewers will see the moving advert, which has already been screened on digital channels, in the coming weeks. After being asked if she would co-operate, Barbara said: "The society has helped us for the past 10 years. "Without its help I would have gone under and given up a long time ago. It's a huge debt that I can never pay back. Helping make the advert is my small way of saying thank you - it's the least I could do." Showing personal video footage of the Pointons' life before Malcolm's illness, the advert has clips from their wedding day, honeymoon and playing with their children. "It's a clever ad where the images of our life begin to mould into a diagram of the brain. It's powerful and gives a clear message," said Barbara. "The problem is that it's the brain that makes a person. It's what makes the individual, what with all the memories and stories that it stores. "But what happens when the brain goes wrong? It shuts down your entire life," she said. The advert hopes to improve the development and research behind Alzheimer's from the support of public donations. The Government only invests £11-a-person on people with dementia. Barbara, who successfully took on the NHS to get free nursing care for her husband, said the advert is calling on people to make a £3-a-month monthly donation to the charity. "It will make a huge difference. Not only to the patient and their carer, but also to the illness itself." From the donations, funds will be spent on supporting the individual now and in the future. It will also help the investment of research, information and advice. "Part of the funding will, hopefully, go towards setting up a home dedicated to Alzheimer sufferers as well, as at the moment there is little on offer," said Barbara. The advert has a timely arrival that echoes the moving scenes seen in Coronation Street where the character of Mike Baldwin had been suffering from Alzheimer's. They are scenes only too familiar to Barbara. She said: "Malcolm doesn't recognise people anymore, even myself. "It is a common symptom and one that is particularly hard for all those around him. "Some days they may think they are still 25 so will be looking for their young partner, not a wife or husband in their 60s." Although she backs the storyline of Coronation Street, Barbara does feel the writers could have explored the illness more. "Soaps can play a big part, particularly in making people aware of such issues. But they must be careful and portray the stories in the correct way, they can't sanitise the truth. The Mike Baldwin storyline has been terrific and has obviously been very close to home. "However, I feel they have only really scratched the surface. There is a lot more that they could have done as he is only really in the early stages of the illness. But, hopefully, some good will come from it and make people more aware. "Alzheimer's is in the same place cancer was 40 years ago. "For dementia to improve we must remove the fear and ignorance that surrounds it. "Thanks to the society, this is starting to happen. I am now more hopeful than I have ever been in the whole time that Malcolm has been ill. So, hopefully, soon they may be able to find a solution. "However, a lot of people will die before a cure is found, so it's a problem that needs to be looked at sooner rather than later. In a country that has a large majority of older people, it's a problem that's not going to go away - only get worse." Film-makers have also contacted Barbara about a sequel to the acclaimed ITV programme in 1999, Malcolm and Barbara: A Love Story, voted one of the top 50 documentaries by Channel 4 viewers. Viewers will witness the heartbreaking decline that has left Malcolm unable to care for himself. However, the couple's love, courage and determination are as strong as ever. - The Alzheimer's Society helpline is 08453 000 336 and is open from Monday to Friday (8.30am-6.30pm).

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