It is hard to think about Angela Rippon without conjuring up memories of the BBC newsreader’s high-kicking dancing display on the Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show 32 years ago. Yes, 32 years!
Nowadays, this familiar face and voice of British broadcasting still pops up on The One Show, Rip Off Britain and has presented a number of highly-acclaimed documentaries, including the BAFTA-nominated programme, The Truth About Dementia.
That 2016 film investigated the disease which took her mother Edna’s life, and has now begun to affect her friends. Angela also underwent a series of tests to discover whether she had any early signs of the disease.
She has now become an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society and spoke at the Rotary conference in Torquay last April to promote awareness.
“Things have changed quite radically since my mother was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2004,” explained Angela. “Then, dementia had a very strong stigma attached to it.
“People were embarrassed by dementia and were afraid to talk about it in public – whether they were someone who had dementia or whose family were involved with dementia.”
When former Prime Minister, David Cameron, put dementia onto the political agenda in 2012, Angela was brought on board to co-chair a committee which would create dementia-friendly communities across the UK.
Tied into that was the Alzheimer’s Society’s launch of its Dementia Friends programme, which many Rotary clubs have since joined.
Through my work, I’ve seen that an awful lot of dementia patients in hospital are left without the kind of social support they need.”
Angela said she has been encouraged to see large companies, organisations and individuals getting involved, understanding dementia, and to witness businesses recognising the importance of staff training.
On top of that, Angela launched a similar initiative five years ago as part of a schools project to create a dementia-friendly generation of younger people.
But now the latest challenge is to recruit thousands of volunteers to work in hospitals nationwide to work alongside nurses in caring for dementia patients.
The programme, which was launched this summer, has the support of former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and now Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, plus the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Physicians and the union UNISON.
“Through my work, I’ve seen that an awful lot of dementia patients in hospital are left without the kind of social support they need,” explained Angela.
“The nursing staff are wonderful, but nurses cannot sit for hours while a dementia patient eats at meal times. They are looking after their medical needs, they can’t look after their social needs.
“So we are planning to build an army of volunteers to go into hospitals to work alongside the nurses making sure they stay hydrated, help them go to the toilet and engage with them during the day.”
As Vice President of the Patient’s Association, Angela pointed out that many families wrote to them complaining that their loved ones who had dementia came out of hospital in a worse condition than when they went in.
They were dehydrated, had not been fed properly, and were disorientated because no-one had looked after them properly.
Every three minutes, someone will develop dementia.”
“It’s not that they were not looked after medically, it’s that their dementia was not dealt with because it was not understood,” added Angela.
“I am hoping we can overcome that to make it much easier and more pleasant for anyone with dementia when they go into hospital to find that the experience is not disorientating, frightening and lengthy.”
It’s unsurprising the Department of Health is supportive of the scheme because it is not going to cost.
A few years ago, the Alzheimer’s Society surveyed 2,500 patients as part of a report titled ‘Counting the Cost’ which showed that people with dementia stayed in hospital on average three times longer than those with a similar medical condition.
Angela Rippon believes that with her army of volunteers working with dementia patients on the wards, this will reduce the time they are in hospital and make it more cost-effective for hospitals.
“We are not taking away nursing responsibilities,” stressed Angela.
“We are working alongside them so that those people with dementia can have some kind of social contact: someone to read to them; to talk to them; to help them go to the bathroom; to walk around with them if they are mobile, so they don’t get bedsores; to make sure they drink so they don’t get dehydrated; and to help them become less agitated in surroundings which can be distressing.
“All of these things we can help to alleviate by having someone there who understands the problem, who is prepared to work with the nurses while they get on with their job.
“Rotary has a vast army of volunteers and I hope they will get involved. We already have the British Red Cross and Royal Voluntary Service, because they have been doing this for some time in a general capacity in hospitals.
“But now we want a trained band of volunteers who understand dementia, know what is required of them, so they can go into wards and say to the nursing staff, you get on with what you are doing we will look after these people to ensure they have all the support they need for their dementia.”
For more information visit alzheimers.org.uk