The now 85-year-old actress has won numerous awards for her craft, including two Oscars and a BAFTA. Having first shot to fame for her TV and film roles in the 1960s, Jackson has depicted Queen Elizabeth I in Mary, Queen of Scots and Cleopatra for the BBC Morecambe and Wise Show. During her last project, Elizabeth Is Missing, the actress played a grandmother living with Alzheimer’s disease who relies on sticky notes to get through her day. Giving an impressive and convincing performance as Maud Horsham, Jackson even wondered if she had contracted the illness herself whilst doing the project.
Speaking to The Mirror back in 2019, Jackson described her own connection to Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, especially when she stood as a Labour candidate at the 1992 General Election.
“We are an ageing population, and although it’s nice to have more years, the years can be dotted with terrible things,” she said.
“When I was still a Member of Parliament, I would visit old people’s homes and see people who were suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, and their families were suffering too.
“I was also privileged to meet a doctor who specialises in dementia and she said the book was very accurate.
“She remarked, quite profoundly I thought, that it was presented as being so unsentimental. That was very useful.
“One of the most touching things after the film [premiered] was the total strangers who would come up to me in the street and share their family experiences.
“At least now, I think we are beginning to acknowledge that these are very serious illnesses, and they do—if not properly cared for—cause damage far wider than the individual who is suffering it.”
Dementia is a term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with your daily life. As of September 2021 the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that more than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide.
“There were days when I thought I had contracted the illness. But that went away,” added Jackson, who remains an avid supporter not only for those who have Alzheimer’s or dementia but their families too.
“You know, the centre of the story are Alzheimer’s and dementia. And they are a big black hole awaiting us all. Most Western societies, where we’re living longer—despite the Covid pandemic—the question arises of, how do we look after ourselves?
“What is important about this is that it’s based on a book written by a girl about her experiences with her grandmother. It’s about how we in a Western democratic society cope with the fact that we are living longer.
“For example, you can’t be treated for dementia under the NHS—I mean, they’re probably going to change it now—because it’s deemed to be incurable.
“Whole families are completely split if a member of their family contracts this disease. If they have to go into a care home, who’s going to pay for it? All those things are real.”
Dementia UK explains that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia in the UK. It’s caused by a build-up of proteins in the brain which damage the brain cells’ ability to transmit messages.
As the disease is progressive, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease tend to get worse over time. These symptoms include the following:
- Difficulty remembering recent events (often retaining a good memory for past events)
- Poor concentration
- Difficulty recognising people or objects
- Poor organisational skills
- Slow, muddled or repetitive speech
- Difficulty performing everyday tasks such as cooking, paying bills, and shopping
- Problems with decision-making.
Other common types of dementia include vascular dementia, lewy body dementia and mixed dementia.
Although there is no cure for dementia at the moment, an early diagnosis means its progress can be slowed down, so the person may be able to maintain their mental function for longer. If you’re worried about your memory, or think you may have dementia, it’s a good idea to see a GP.
Although there is no guarantee that dementia can be prevented, Dementia UK suggests that up to one in three cases are preventable, and modifiable risk factors include:
- High alcohol intake
- High blood pressure
- Lack of exercise
- Low educational attainment
- Poor physical health
Therefore, individuals should try to keep their minds active, stay physically active, quit smoking, get enough vitamins, maintain a healthy diet, get good-quality sleep and manage any cardio-vascular risk factors in order to minimise their risk of developing the condition.
Some “brain healthy” foods to include in your diet include the following:
- Beans, lentils, soya
- Green leafy vegetables
- Olive oil
- Other colourful vegetables
- Red wine – in moderation