Anneka Rice’s ‘very personal’ brain health challenge after losing both parents to dementia
08 February 2022
Iconic broadcaster and journalist Anneka Rice has spoken about a ‘very personal challenge’ to protect her brain health, after revealing she lost both parents to dementia. The Treasure Hunt and Challenge Anneka star, who took on Strictly Come Dancing in 2019, is launching a new phase of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Think Brain Health campaign, revealing 40 simple, everyday tips to help people protect their brains and reduce the risk of dementia. The campaign launches as new polling* shows that almost 1 in 3 UK adults (32%) are less adventurous with their leisure time since the start of the pandemic.
Alzheimer’s Research UK data show that only 1 in 3 UK adults think it’s possible to influence the risk of dementia, with more than half not being able to recognise any key risk factors for the condition.
This is despite a 2020 Lancet Commission on dementia suggesting that up to 40% of dementia cases could be down to risk factors that may be in our control to change. These factors include early life education, hearing loss, smoking, depression, lack of physical activity, social isolation, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, air pollution, excessive alcohol consumption and traumatic head injury.
Anneka’s father developed dementia in 2005 and her mother started to show symptoms almost a decade later around the time of her father’s funeral.
“When my father started to develop dementia, he retained his sweet and gentle nature, but the impact of the condition on him was terrifying. I hadn’t really heard of dementia until it affected my family and so I found it very scary to have to navigate from being a daughter to a carer.
“In the throes of his dementia, the time of his life he liked to revisit in his head was visits to a health spa and we would spend hours in the sitting room queuing for the steam bath, wondering why the swimming pool wasn’t open.
“I grew up sharing his love for DIY and during his illness we’d spend hours looking at swatches of paint and choosing a colour for a tie or a shed. I asked him once, ‘Dad, what’s my name?’. He looked at me tenderly and said ‘Dulux’, and inexplicably, this brought me comfort.”
Reflecting on her own situation, Anneka says:
“While I know that the risks around dementia are very complex, which means there’s no reason my path in life will be the same, it is at the forefront of my mind to keep my brain as fit and healthy as possible.
“That’s why I’m supporting Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Think Brain Health campaign to help people understand that there are things they can do to protect their brain health and stack the odds against dementia as much as possible.
Think Brain Health provides 40 simple, everyday tips for better brain health as well as quizzes, information and blogs about how to stay brain healthy. The tips are centred around three pillars of brain health: love your heart; stay sharp; and keep connected.
Tips include cleaning around the house, learning a new language, making plans with old friends, getting into gardening, re-discovering books and inviting the neighbour over for a natter.
Speaking of her own brain health, Anneka says:
“Brain health is a very personal challenge to me after witnessing my parents’ dementia.
“Of course, family is the ultimate tribe and although I wasn’t close to my parents when I was younger, I established good relations with them as an adult. They were loving grandparents to my own children.
“I’ve found new tribes through my career and hobbies that help to keep me connected, mentally sharp and constantly challenged. I’d encourage others to find their tribe too – being supported by people you care about it’s the best way to stick at something.
“I’m a befriender to the older people in my community. It’s been such a lovely experience to get to know the person behind the frailty. These people were prisoners-of-war, painters, brain surgeons! We are all guilty of just seeing the outside facade of someone. I also do stand-up comedy, which is a great way to keep my brain sharp. It’s good to terrify yourself sometimes.
“Painting, writing, playing an instrument can really absorb you. My art tribe is an important branch of my family. Your painting is a mark of what you brought to life that day and it is utterly absorbing. You definitely leave your problems at the bottom of your bag.
“For me, good brain health is about finding things you enjoy and trying to keep life a big, action-packed challenge. I’d encourage everyone to take a moment to think about their brain, and what they’re giving back to it.”
Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“There’s no one sure-fire way to prevent dementia but research shows that keeping your brain healthy, especially in midlife, can help to reduce the risk of the condition. Keeping your heart healthy through regular exercise, a healthy diet and not smoking is key to good brain health. Keeping connected with friends and family and staying sharp by keeping your brain active also has benefits for the brain.
“Your brain is incredible and whatever your situation, there are things you can do to help look after it. Think Brain Health is designed to give simple advice and tips to get you started.”
Find advice and ideas on how to keep your brain healthy and help reduce your risk of dementia, including 40 tips for better brain health (launching 8 Feb), at www.thinkbrainhealth.org.uk
The campaign is delivered by Alzheimer’s Research UK, with support from Think Brain Health partners parkrun, Warburtons and Duolingo.
*New polling from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2110 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th – 27th January 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+)