Investing in our future: Nick Conrad talks dementia

Nick Conrad. Photo: Steve Adams

Nick Conrad. Photo: Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

'No one has ever become poor by giving.' Simple words but most profound. The scribe? Ann Frank. The phrase has always resonated with BBC Radio Norfolk presenter NICK CONRAD. Here he explains why.

Ann Frank's words sum up the ethos of my wonderful grandmother, Audrey, whom I cherish. She taught me compassion, understanding and above all acceptance. She now requires these qualities in return. Now I am fuelled, not by the weight of debt or duty, but by a determination to see my grandmother enjoy the best possible end to a wonderful life. Further to that I spy an opportunity - to make Norfolk the best county in Britain in which to grow old.

Dementia is cruel and those living with the condition can become easily confused and anxious. It is a terrifying disease. Currently there are an estimated 14,000 people in Norfolk living with dementia, with numbers set to rise by 9,000 in the next decade. This is fast becoming a health crisis. There but for the grace of God go I; this could happen to any of us.

Audrey has stoically battled for years with her memory – which she calls 'forgettery'. Dementia often starts with short-term memory loss, but it can also affect the way that people think, speak and do things.

In hindsight, the signs were there. The time she boiled desiccated coconut to serve with curry instead of rice, the fruitcake where sugar had been substituted for salt or the frequency in which her bicycle was mislaid – on reflection all roads pointed to the condition long before an official diagnosis.

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I don't want her to change, or ask for my old 'Auders' back - she's an absolute hoot! Her delightful eccentricity blurs the lines between what we can attribute to her condition and her unique and refreshing outlook on life, which is still evident.

Born in Rajasthan to Sir Herbert and Lady Kathleen Thompson, she's lived an extraordinary life. Her early years saw geographical turmoil; uprooted from her beloved India to 'boring' Australia due to the fear of a potential Japanese invasion.

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In the late 1940s, she attended Oxford university, became a farmer's wife and the mother of four. In later years, a committed Quaker, founder of a dramatic society for youngsters running for 48 years, she helped establish three twinning associations, volunteered for the U3A, RNLI, Churches Together and Meals on Wheels.

Audrey wanted to be part of the Sheringham community, and the community appreciated her!

A life lived, full of amazing memories, although she can't recall much of her past. Sometimes she struggles to remember my name. It matters not. In one hug I can communicate my love and appreciation for her – she knows I'm on her side.

It's for this reason I've dedicated so much energy and time to campaigning on issues surrounding dementia. So fa,r I've met some amazing people and support groups who are making a phenomenal difference in our county.

But the challenge in front of us is sizable as outlined by the Prime Minister. David Cameron launched the Dementia Challenge four years ago, calling the issue a 'personal priority'. He has detailed an ambitious agenda 'to deliver sustained improvements in health and care, create dementia friendly communities, and boost dementia research'.

In his latest speech on the issue, he set out his desire to see the UK as the best place in the world for dementia care and support, and for research into neurodegenerative diseases. These are laudable short term objectives, but tough to sustain. It takes considerable time to embed change.

In Norfolk, I'm helping to spearheadg this campaign, aiming to foster a culture of tolerance and support. I've got the key backing of the Norfolk & Suffolk Dementia Alliance, Age UK Norfolk and the Alzheimer's Society - as well as the EDP, which has been covering the subject for some time now.

The ideas I've put forward and those of others we're promoting, hopefully, are an investment in all our tomorrows.

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