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This may yet be the best role Barbara Windsor ever plays

PUBLISHED: 14:13 27 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:13 27 May 2018

Dame Barbara Windsor: the much-loved actress could find herself playing her greatest-ever 'role' - helping to change a nation's attitudes to Alzheimer's and other dementia conditions. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Dame Barbara Windsor: the much-loved actress could find herself playing her greatest-ever 'role' - helping to change a nation's attitudes to Alzheimer's and other dementia conditions. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

PA Wire/PA Images

We need to talk about dementia, says Rachel Moore.

Barbara Windsor missed her great friend Dale Winton’s funeral on Tuesday.

Her recently-revealed Alzheimer’s might have made the occasion too confusing for her. After all, she often forgets she is married to her devoted husband, Scott, who has been by her side for 25 years.

This week Windsor said she wanted to carry on, despite the cruel disease attacking her brain. Her husband wants people to understand, be patient and kind to the woman he loves if they don’t see the same Barbara when they are out and about.

We all have work to do to understand dementia because it comes with the label, Please Not Me. Cancer, once the most feared disease, is now spoken of openly. Hush-hushing the c-word is no more, the what-if dread or the death-sentence fear.

Cancer can be cured, sufferers talk about their treatment and it’s spoken with openness and honesty. Sympathy and good wishes are extended to the woman in the headscarf mid-chemotherapy treatment, no turning away in awkwardness, and support is offered.

How brave she is. She’s still working, you know. How wonderful is her partner, their children. How can we help?

Now the UK’s biggest killer, dementia is also our biggest fear. It’s incurable, cruel and terrifying. A disease eating away at our minds rather than our bodies holds greater terror.

Dementia, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain conditions have become the national dread.

Someone develops dementia every three minutes. And about two-thirds of people with dementia are based in rural areas.

However much Windsor would like to carry on as best she can, it can never be business as usual as the harshest of personality distortions takes over her life, and her husband’s too.

Stepping outside the front door can be too much for those with it and those caring for them. Until businesses invest in training and we all open our minds to what dementia does, they face intolerance, prejudice and downright cruelty trying to get on with life while they can.

Every day is a struggle, but to confront judgment, rudeness, shunning and isolation is too much for them.

It’s Dementia Action Week, and the Alzheimer’s Society is urging rural communities especially to take action to become more dementia-friendly to address isolation for those caring for people with dementia.

Imagine how it feels to be the husband or wife of a partner who doesn’t recognise him or her? Who looks at them as if they are a stranger; they could have been married for 50 years but there is not even a glimmer of recognition or love, just eyes filled with fear and confusion.

Imagine being trapped at home with someone you love who is so confused you have no more trust in their behaviour than a toddler left alone. They see no danger, have no comprehension or recognition.

Imagine living in a village with it?

The Alzheimer’s Society wants businesses, local councils, organisations and individuals to help make life easier for people affected by the double jeopardy of living in a rural community and having dementia. People feel excluded and disempowered.

We need to listen to create the environment for suffers and their carers to feel more comfortable to get out and about and be part of our society.

In the week Ray Wilson of the 1966 England squad died after living with dementia for 14 years, Jeremy Hughes, CEO of the Alzheimer’s Society, praised the work businesses and individuals were doing – more than 2.4 million Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friends and 350 Dementia-Friendly Communities in the UK are taking action to change perceptions of dementia.

But rural areas are still a big problem area for isolation, he said.

“We need to see all of society, including the most remote and rural areas, uniting now and committing to the steps outlined in this guide, so that no one has to face dementia alone.”

It’s a long road and perhaps the last, and possibly the most lasting, public role Barbara Windsor has left to play – to change attitudes and perceptions of the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia and how we can all play our part to be more accepting and compassionate.

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