Ahead of Alzheimer’s Society’s Cupcake Day on June 17, award-winning actor Meera Syal CBE joined forces with keen baker Dianne Gallimore, who is living with dementia.
The duo appeared in a film where the 63-year-old grandmother opened up to the charity Ambassador about her experiences of living with dementia as they baked cupcakes together in support of Alzheimer’s Society’s crucial work.
Filmed before the pandemic, she teamed up with Stockport-based Dianne, a mum of three and grandmother of six who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s aged 59, a type of dementia that affects over 42,000 people in the UK. A keen family cook, Dianne spoke candidly about the impact dementia has on daily life, her distress at having to leave her job as a Health Visitor and her journey towards finding how it’s still possible to live well with dementia with the right support.
The actor, writer and comedian, whose works include the popular television series The Kumars at Number 42 and Goodness Gracious Me, became an Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador in 2013 after her father was diagnosed with dementia.
Meera Syal said: “Dianne was fantastic and incredibly articulate about what it’s like to live with dementia – she is living proof that it’s not the end when you get diagnosed with dementia. She is surrounded by love, she’s having a fulfilling life, she’s still doing things that she loves and she’s getting so much out of it.
“My father was diagnosed with dementia in the summer of 2012. He passed away in September 2018. The support we received from Alzheimer’s Society was invaluable, so being able to help the charity that was a lifeline to my family has been very rewarding.
“It’s also an incredible way for me to remember my Dad – the more I get involved in the work of Alzheimer’s Society, the more determined I am to give it all I’ve got to make a difference. Hundreds of thousands of families in the UK are impacted by dementia, and I feel strongly that people shouldn’t face this alone or without the very best support – even more so over the last year, when we have seen so many people affected by dementia cut off from their routines, their hobbies and sadly even the people they love, with so many in a state of confusion about why life has been so different.”
Following a huge rise in people baking over the last year, and with more time being spent at home perfecting favourite recipes, Meera and Dianne are calling for all budding bakers to continue the baking craze a little while longer by whipping up a treat for Cupcake Day, to support the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK who have been left devastated by coronavirus.
As well as being the worst hit in terms of deaths, people like Dianne have had to cope with the devastating knock-on effects of isolation and a lack of social contact over the past year. An Alzheimer’s Society survey revealed an overwhelming 92% said the pandemic had accelerated their loved one’s dementia symptoms.
Dianne added: “Meera and I had a great time baking our favourite cupcakes and it was a real honour talking to her about my journey with dementia.
“Over the past year, for me, and for many others with dementia, the isolation caused by lockdown has been tough to deal with – a loss of routine and a lack of social contact has had such an impact on those with my condition. But I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been able to form a bubble with our son Adam and his wife Lindsay. The support I have had from them has been lifesaving. It has also allowed me to see my grandchildren, which has been so therapeutic, and I feel blessed to have such a caring and understanding husband in George.
“Getting my diagnosis was very upsetting for myself, my husband George and the whole family. I must admit, I shed a few tears and became anxious and distressed. It’s the fear that you can’t operate how you used to be able to operate. You’re worried that people expect more of you. If I’m going out, I have to double check everything, make sure I know where I’m going, and the route. Otherwise, I get very anxious.
“But with the support of George and the family, I realised it wasn’t the end. It was something I had to face up to. I decided to focus on getting as much support as I could, take on board the diagnosis, and do everything in my power to help stop the disease progressing.
“It has been a journey, but over time, and with help from Alzheimer’s Society, I’ve come to embrace the situation. I’m determined to live a full and happy life. You can still have fun and not have a good memory.
Alzheimer’s Society Chief Executive Kate Lee said: “It’s been an unprecedented year for people like Dianne – our support services have been used five million times since March 2020 and have been a lifeline to thousands, but there are so many more people throughout the region who urgently need our help.
“Each cupcake sold will make such a difference, as it will enable us to reach those who need it most. A huge thank you to both Meera and Dianne for opening up about the reality of having dementia – we hope it inspires people to dust off their aprons and get back in the kitchen this June!”
People can get involved in Cupcake Day in several ways, whether it’s through doing a baking ‘drop off’ to neighbours, hosting a driveway cake sale or hosting a socially distanced cupcake party. Sign up for Cupcake Day and receive your free fundraising pack here: alzheimers.org.uk/cupcake-day