‘Find your tribe’ – Anneka’s brain health challenge
TV star and broadcaster Anneka Rice tells us why looking after her brain health is such an important part of her life after caring for both her parents with dementia, and why it’s good to terrify yourself sometimes.
Looking back now, my 20s and 30s were a blur of activity from jumping out of planes for Treasure Hunt to travelling the world on Wish you were here...? Challenge Anneka was another whirlwind of people, places and activities that kept me on my toes for long filming days on end.
The bonds I made with those crews really cemented the importance of ‘tribes’ to me – the groups of individuals and shared experiences that provide such valuable support throughout life.
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.
It was while filming the Challenge Anneka series in 2005 that my father started to show symptoms of 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. It was a terribly sad time for us, but I hold onto the touching moments.
In the throws 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.
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.
Brain health is a very personal challenge to me after witnessing my parents’ dementia. While many of the challenges I’ve taken on in the public eye, including Strictly Come Dancing in 2019, have been very physical, I’m enjoying different ways to connect and stay sharp off-screen too.
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.