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Angela Rippon talks ‘taboo around dementia’

Health and Mental Health

Angela Rippon talks ‘taboo around dementia’

The former BBC News anchor and Rip Off Britain presenter spoke to ITV’s Lorraine…

Angela Rippon joined Lorraine Kelly where she opened up about her mother’s struggle with dementia and the importance of why we should not exclude dementia sufferers from society as well as telling us why it’s important to stay fit as she approaches 80.

Discussing the taboo around dementia, Angela said: “I remember a journalist saying to me, ‘aren’t you embarrassed to be talking about dementia?’ I mean, people aren’t embarrassed to be talking about cancer, parkinson’s or huntington’s but no, that was the attitude. There was a great stigma attached to it and thank goodness over the past 20 years, we’ve seen so much in those areas change.”

“We’re at the stage now where we can say that it’s really important for people to get a diagnosis of dementia. I know there are lots of people that perhaps think ‘oh, I don’t want to know because I’m a bit frightened of it’ and a lot of families who are still in denial about it, but if you can get a diagnosis, what it does mean is that immediately you know what you’re dealing with and you can start planning.

“You can get your Lasting Power of Attorney sorted out, you can say ‘well if this is what I’ve got, why don’t we now do the things that perhaps we’ve been putting off for too long’. But most importantly, I think it’s important for carers, for loved ones, and for families because before my mother was diagnosed, she started to have symptoms which I did not recognise as being dementia.”

Angela Rippon, one of the early hosts of BBC motoring magazine series Top Gear

Opening up about her mother’s dementia, she continued: “She got agoraphobic, she didn’t want to go out. She got very argumentative. She got quite vitriolic at times, when she was talking to me. We would have terrible arguments and that was really distressing for both of us. But once I realised, with the diagnosis that what she had was dementia, I could then think ‘right, now I understand. I’m dealing with a disease, not the person.’ So when my mum went into saying things like, ‘I’m going to have tea with your granny this afternoon’, I wouldn’t say ‘Oh, don’t be daft’. Granny died when I was six, which would have upset my mother terribly. What I was able to do was inhabit my mother’s parallel universe, just for long enough to make her feel comfortable, and then change the subject.”

Explaining why she believes it is so important to not exclude dementia sufferers from society, Angela said: “Dementia does not rob you of everything. It’s a gradual disease that takes over gradually, which is why we say ‘get your diagnosis as soon as you can!’… But if you are still part of your family’s entertainment – going out for lunch, going to the theatre, going to the cinema, going down the pub, watching a football game – just do all of those things which keep you an important member of society and a member of your family group.

“Two of the worst things to affect, not just people with dementia and their carers beyond the disease itself, is isolation and loneliness. That’s the worst thing you can possibly do. Keep people involved. I had Italian friends who had a big family wedding and they said: ‘no point in inviting granny because she won’t know what’s going on’ and I said ‘no, she’s got to go!’ And afterwards, they said it was fabulous.

Angela takes part in the 2023 series of Strictly Come Dancing. Rippon hosted the original ‘Come Dancing’ in the late 80s and early 90s.

“She didn’t have a clue who the pretty girl in the white frock was. She didn’t know who the man who was dancing with her was but she was dancing, she was singing, she was laughing. She was having the time of her life. She couldn’t remember anything the day after but she enjoyed the moment.”

On turning 80 this year, Angela said: “It’s really important when you get older to keep your brain going or learn another language – doing something that challenges your brain helps to keep dementia at bay. But keeping fit and exercising as well is really important.” 

“Dance is really important” she added as she revealed she is still friends with Strictly partner Kai Widdrington. She said: “We’ve become great pals. When you consider there is a 51 year age difference between us. He is 28 and I am 79.”

Earlier on in the programme, Angela showed Dr Amir how to do the splits as she told him to “take it easy, we don’t want to break anything”. Kicking his leg up on the ballet bar, Dr Amir told Lorraine: “everything is hurting”.

 Lorraine weekdays from 9am on ITV1 and STV

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