Tony Robinson: TV legend, 75, on lifestyle choices to avoid ‘terrible’ disease

Tony Robinson argues for ‘pro-European vision’ of Britain’s future

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After looking after both of his parents, who lived with the progressive disease for 15 years, Robinson made a documentary exploring the issues around dementia and care homes. Following on from the success of the film, the Blackadder star became an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society, one of the leading charities supporting families and individuals with all kinds of dementia. His close involvement both with the charity and the condition has inevitably made the star think about his own health, and the best things he can do to try and prevent getting the condition that he saw both of his parents suffer from.

“For about 15 years, Alzheimer’s was the main thing in my life, apart from my work and my kid,” Robinson told Wise Living magazine.

“Towards the end of my mum’s life, I made a documentary called Me And My Mum around the issues surrounding dementia and care homes, and the reaction was extraordinary.

“I got so many heartfelt, handwritten letters from carers and people with dementia, saying that their situation was ghastly, and something had to be done. So, when the Alzheimer’s Society got in touch, I was more than pleased to be an ambassador.

“When you have a terrible experience, there’s very little you can do on your own – large organisations can do a lot more.”

Speaking more personally about his own fears of developing the condition that affects the brain. Robinson told The Express: “Most of the time I feel pretty fatalistic about it.

“I’ve got as little or as much chance of getting it like most other people.

“Just simply the fact my parents had it doesn’t necessarily mean I will get it at all.

“What we understand about the disease, is the kind of thing that can keep it at bay is getting involved with things socially, being very active, eating decent food, not getting p****d and by and large that’s the kind of life I lead anyway.”

The Alzheimer’s Society explains that in 2020, there were around 900,000 people in the UK living with dementia. With these current statistics, it is projected to ride to 1.6 million by 2040.

Dementia is the umbrella term used to describe a group of related symptoms. These main symptoms of dementia include the following:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes.

When symptoms such as memory loss first develop, it may be known as “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI) as it is not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia.

However, due to the progressive nature of the condition, symptoms will generally get worse over time.

As Robinson briefly mentioned, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that Alzheimer’s disease can be inherited, so having a close relative with the condition does not mean there will be a genetic link.

However, there is one rare form of Alzheimer’s known as Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD) which carries a 50 percent chance of a child developing the condition if one parent has the mutated gene.

Researchers believe that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the abnormal build-up of two specific proteins called amyloid and tau. Deposits of amyloid, called plaques, build up around brain cells and deposits of tau form “tangles” within brain cells.

The NHS adds that as a result of brain cells becoming affected in Alzheimer’s, there is also a decrease in chemical messengers (called neurotransmitters) involved in sending messages, or signals, between brain cells.

Although factors such as age, and in rare cases genetics, are unpreventable, it is possible for individuals to reduce their risk of dementia.

These include:

  • Physical activity
  • Eating healthily
  • Not smoking
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Staying socially and mentally active
  • Taking control of your health.

Despite these prevention tips, dementia and Alzheimer’s remains incurable. Robinson commented on this saying: “When my mum and dad had Alzheimer’s, I thought technological advances would solve everything by the time I was old enough to have dementia myself. It’s like with Covid – we all thought there would be a quick fix, and now people are saying we may never find a vaccine.

“Public understanding of dementia has improved, but in the long term, it’s very important we remember that the people who suffered most during Covid were the elderly. It’s a terrible time.”

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