It’s a cruel condition that claimed the lives of both parents – and now TV presenter Fiona Phillips has revealed she too has Alzheimer’s.
Her touching revelation at the age of just 62 sparked a wave of love and support from her friends across the showbiz world yesterday.
Lorraine Kelly praised the “incredible” former GMTV presenter, Talk TV’s Piers Morgan described her as “honest and brave”, while GMB’s Susannah Reid offered “huge congratulations”.
Fiona shared how “heartbroken” she was when she was diagnosed with early-onset dementia 18 months ago after suffering months of brain fog and anxiety, thinking it was linked to menopause.
Fiona’s husband – This Morning boss Martin Frizell – told the ITV daytime show: “We got in touch with a menopause specialist who took her under his wing and put her on HRT.
“But although that improved her symptoms, the brain fog persisted.”
“She’s really brave and optimistic”
Fiona, who is an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society, had always feared succumbing to the disease her parents Neville and Amy suffered from, but admitted the diagnosis still came as a “complete shock”.
She told The Mirror: “It’s something I might have thought I’d achieve by the time I was 80. But I was still only 61.”
“I was more angry than anything because this disease was already affecting my life.
“My poor mother was affected, then my father, my grandparents, my uncle. For us it always comes back.”
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s – but the journalist and broadcaster is testing a new drug that doctors hope will one day reverse the disease.
Susanna Reid told GMB viewers: “We all send our big congratulations to Fiona. We all know and love them.
“She was an incredible advocate for families with Alzheimer’s.”
TalkTV’s Vanessa Feltz praised Fiona as “remarkable” in an interview with Holly Willoughby on This Morning.
She said: “I’ve known Fiona for over 30 years. She’s a remarkable person – she’s incredibly smart, amazingly quick-thinking, and highly intelligent.
“I can’t imagine the impact that must have had on her.
“My heart is with her. I’ve never admired her so much.”
Vanessa’s TalkTV colleague Piers tweeted: “What incredibly sad news but how typically honest and brave of @realmissfiona to speak out.”
“Dear lady, wish her and her family all the best in the fight against this terrible disease.”
Lorraine Kelly said that Fiona was a “superwoman” because she looked after her parents when they were suffering from Alzheimer’s while also hosting morning TV and raising their two children.
The TV presenter said on her ITV1 show: “She’s really amazing. It’s really sad news but she’s really brave and really optimistic as we would expect.”
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and when a person is diagnosed before the age of 65, they are said to have early or young onset dementia.
There are an estimated 900,000 people with dementia in the UK. Experts predict the number will rise to 1.6 million by 2040 – and the risk increases with age.
Even if the drug trial isn’t helping me, these tests will help other people in the future, so I just have to keep going.
Younger people with dementia are less likely to notice memory loss as one of their first symptoms and are more likely to have problems with movement, walking, coordination, or balance.
Paul Edwards, Head of Clinical Services at Dementia UK, commended Fiona for having the courage to speak her mind and hopes that by sharing her experience she will help thousands of people who may be living with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s disease.
He said, “In some women, dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms can coexist with perimenopause or menopause, which can present additional challenges in finding a diagnosis.”
“Fiona will help others in a similar situation”
“Many people are unaware of these common symptoms. And by choosing to speak publicly about her experience, Fiona will help raise awareness and help others in a similar situation get an accurate diagnosis so they can access the support and medication they need that they need.”
Fiona – mother of sons Nathaniel, 24, and Mackenzie, 21 – has had blood tests done to determine if her children are likely to inherit the disease. Luckily they were negative.
Currently, drugs can only mask the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease – but Fiona has qualified for a clinical trial of the drug Miridesap at University College Hospital in London, which could one day slow or reverse the disease.
Fiona added: “Even though it’s not helping me these tests will help other people in the future so I just have to keep going.”
The drug, given in three daily injections, is one of a handful of drugs that bring hope to dementia patients and their families.
Other clinical trials over the last year showed that two drugs, donanemab and lecanemab, could be among the first to nip dementia in the bud.
Signs to look out for
Dementia is classified as early or young onset if a person develops symptoms before the age of 65.
Sun GP Dr. Zoe Williams said: “Last year a study found that the estimated number of people with dementia at a young age in England was 70,800.
“That is 7.5 percent of all people diagnosed with dementia.
“Dementia can be poorly recognized and misdiagnosed in younger people, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment.”
Although the early signs vary, some of the most common early symptoms of dementia include:
- Problems with memory, especially remembering current events
- Increasing confusion
- Reduced concentration
- personality or behavior changes
- Apathy and withdrawal or depression
- Loss of ability to complete everyday tasks
To find out more visit the NHS website, the Alzheimer’s Society or Dementia UK.
If you are concerned that you may be showing the first signs of dementia, talk to your family doctor.
They work by removing nerve-damaging clumps of a protein called amyloid from the brain.
Hailed as a “game changer,” the results represented a major step forward.
Kate Lee, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Society said: “Our thoughts go out to our Ambassador, Fiona Phillips and her family, following the announcement that she has dementia.
“Fiona has spoken frequently about her parents’ experiences with dementia and her support of the Alzheimer’s Society has been extremely powerful.”
7 things you can do to prevent it
While no one can predict exactly who will and won’t develop dementia during their lifetime, scientists and doctors say we can all now take small steps to prevent dementia.
BRUSH: Proper brushing can help prevent dementia.
Japanese scientists found that gum disease and tooth loss are associated with a higher risk of disease.
People with poor oral hygiene found more shrinkage of the hippocampus – a part of the brain linked to thinking and memory.
So clean it thoroughly and have it checked out.
STUB IT OUT: According to the World Health Organization, around 14 percent of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide are attributed to smoking and tobacco use.
Alzheimers.org.uk says the risk of developing dementia increases by 30 to 50 percent if you smoke.
MOVE IT: Numerous studies show that regular physical activity significantly reduces the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s – by up to 30 percent.
So it’s never too late to move.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate, conversational activity each week.
EAT WELL: A Mediterranean diet with lots of oily fish, fresh fruit and vegetables and few highly processed foods reduces the risk of dementia.
High levels of antioxidants are believed to protect the brain and help lower cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol has been linked to memory loss.
BE ASSURED: Joint studies from France and the UK found that people in their 50s and 60s who sleep less than six hours a night have a 30 percent higher risk of developing dementia.
British research followed thousands of people aged 50 and over for around 25 years.
If you ever needed a reason to sleep early, this is it.
PUZZLE: Whether you love crosswords, Sudoku or a game of chess, mentally stimulating your brain can delay the onset of dementia by 2.54 years, studies have shown.
What better excuse to take up a new hobby?
LISTEN: People with mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia.
A British study found that people with severe hearing impairment are five times more likely to be diagnosed.
So don’t hesitate if your TV gets louder every night – hearing tests are available from many downtown optometrists.