A healthy meeting of minds with Alzheimer’s Research UK

At our latest Creating the Future event, The Value of Health, we discussed some of the pivotal issues that affect our physical and mental health as we get older.

In the surroundings of London’s Hotel Café Royal, our clients gathered to hear four renowned guest speakers talk and stimulate discussion about Alzheimer’s disease, being healthier for longer and insomnia. Our host, Oli Barrett reminded the audience of a quote from Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, a frequent visitor to the Café Royal “We don’t stop playing because we get old; we grow old because we stop playing” before welcoming Scott Mitchell, the husband of our late national treasure, Dame Barbara Windsor to speak first.

Losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s

Scott emotionally spoke of how his vibrant wife with a wonderful outlook on life had always said to him, “Darling, I am going to get old and go before you, so you better be prepared”. With an age gap of 26 years, Scott understood those words but he openly says that what he wasn’t prepared for, was Alzheimer’s. He talked of how “sharp” Barbara was and how she prided herself on being able to learn her lines quickly – she was the one her friends would call if they were struggling to remember actors they had worked with in the West End in years gone by.

“One day, Barbara came home from the set of Eastenders and said that she couldn’t find the lines, which although she knew could happen something felt different and strange. Very slowly, her personality began to change. Always fearless and joyful, Barbara became withdrawn – it was like a veil coming down.”
Scott Mitchell, Ambassador Alzheimer’s Research UK

Since Dame Barbara’s passing with Alzheimer’s disease in 2020, Scott has driven huge change through his advocacy, running three London Marathons for the charity, and raising hundreds of thousands of pounds. He’s also lobbied the government to boost dementia research funding leading to the Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission – a task force designed to speed up dementia research and pledged to double dementia research funding to £160million this year.

Dementia treatment breakthrough

Following Scott’s moving account of living with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, Professor Selina Wray, molecular neuroscience professor provided a comprehensive overview on the neuroscience of dementia – where we are in terms of our understanding of the disease and how potential treatments are progressing.

Professor Wray discussed the significant public health challenge dementia poses, with nearly a million people in the UK affected. Although fewer than 1 per cent of dementia cases are genetic, research into autosomal Alzheimer’s has opened the door to understanding the order of events that result in dementia – and by doing so offers an opportunity to stop the disease from progressing.

She shared encouraging developments in early diagnosis and disease-modifying treatments, emphasizing the importance of early intervention. Her work with stem cells and patient-specific disease modelling offers hope for personalised treatments in the future.

“One of the big breakthroughs that we’ve had in our understanding of the disease is there is a huge period of pre-symptomatic change in the brain that’s happening 30 years before the first symptoms appear. We now know that clinical trials failed previously because we were testing drugs in people already with Alzheimer’s. It was the equivalent of testing chemotherapy on people with cancer who are already in a hospice. It was far too late.”
Selina Wray, Professor of Molecular Neuroscience

Reducing risk through lifestyle choices

After qualifying at medical school, our third panellist, Dr Sabine Donnai, became disheartened. During eight years of study, she learned that a symptom matched a diagnosis, which matched a treatment but she felt that there must be more to what health actually means. On a journey across several continents studying different types of medicine she became inspired by the Ming dynasty where the emperor paid a physician to keep him healthy.

Dr Donnai’s passion is to prevent people from getting ill with diseases such as Alzheimer’s in the first place. She says we are all born with a wall of switches. Depending on your lifestyle choices you can choose to switch them on or keep them turned off. It is why she advocates checking your DNA because only 10 per cent of your health risk is down to your genes – the rest is a lifestyle choice. So, what does Dr Donnai advise we do at the very least? Avoid sugar, toxins and white foods (“everything but cauliflower”) and eat organic, not because of the taste but because of the nutrients that go into your body. Keep your muscles strong by weight training and floss, not only to keep your dentist happy but to reduce inflammation, which is in itself a risk factor.

“People that retire mustn’t turn off. Keep using your brain. Not by doing crossword puzzles. That is using information you already know. Learn something new, table tennis, juggling or just anything different.”
Dr Sabine Donnai, Founder & CEO of Viavi

How to get a good night’s sleep

We all need to sleep. It is unavoidable. What varies drastically is how good the quality of our sleep is and how many hours we get. And the truth is that more than half of people living in the UK lose sleep at one time or another due to stress and anxiety.

Kathryn Pinkham, founder, of The Insomnia Clinic, the UK’s largest foundation and our final guest speaker used her time to give the audience some tips on improving their sleeping habits. The more time we spend in bed thinking and ruminating, the more we connect our beds to these negative feelings, she says. We teach ourselves to feel stressed and anxious in bed by continuing to reinforce the habit. We then spend more and more time awake in bed which disrupts our body clock and leads to further poor sleep.

So, how can we improve our sleep? The first tip from Kathryn is to spend less time in bed by cutting down your wind-down routine. Just go to bed later. If you wake up in the middle of the night, get out of bed and do something different such as reading until you feel sleepy. We all tend to lead busy lives – too busy to find the time to worry during the day but our minds find that time at 3am. Take 10 minutes out of your day to note down what’s on your mind, so it doesn’t crop up when you least want it to.

“If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t look at the clock. You don’t need to know the time. It does two things. First, it cements that pattern to keep waking up at the same time. Second, it triggers a negative chain of thoughts.”
Kathryn Pinkham, founder, The Insomnia Clinic

Our National Charity Partner

Weatherbys is proud to support Alzheimer’s Research UK as our national charity partner for 2024/25. Dementia affects almost one million people in the UK alone. Tragically, not one of them will survive. Alzheimer’s Research UK exists to change that and is striving for a cure by revolutionising the way dementia is treated, diagnosed, and prevented. With breakthrough treatments finally emerging, there’s never been a more exciting time to support the charity’s search for a cure.

By taking action over the coming weeks, you can help make the next government – whoever it is – to take dementia seriously. Vote For A Cure. General Election 2024: Vote For A Cure – General Election 2024: Vote For A Cure – Alzheimer’s Research UK.