Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

She's the Heart of Our Family ...I'd Love to Save Her; SINCE HIS WIFE'S DIAGNOSIS WITH DEMENTIA, SIR JACKIE STEWART HAS DEVOTED HIMSELF TO FINDING A CURE. HERE THE FORMULA ONE LEGEND OPENS UP TO GABRIELLE FAGAN

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

She's the Heart of Our Family ...I'd Love to Save Her; SINCE HIS WIFE'S DIAGNOSIS WITH DEMENTIA, SIR JACKIE STEWART HAS DEVOTED HIMSELF TO FINDING A CURE. HERE THE FORMULA ONE LEGEND OPENS UP TO GABRIELLE FAGAN

Article excerpt

AT the height of his Formula One career, Sir Jackie Stewart drew on his wife Lady Helen's memory to fuel his ambitions. "We worked together as a team, her mind was so sharp," recalls the 77-year-old three-time Formula One world champion.

"She was known as one of the best time keepers and lap charters in the world. She could time things to the millisecond. She couldn't do that today."

Today, the couple, who met as teenagers and have been married for 54 years, are adjusting to a different phase in their lives, learning just a few years ago that 75-year-old Lady Helen has the "early stages of dementia".

"I've watched Helen change before my eyes over the past two-and-a-half years," says the Scottish driver, who was told of his wife's diagnosis during a routine check-up in 2014.

"Her razor-sharp mind was one of the things I fell in love with, and it's part of that mind that's vanishing."

While Helen's long-term memory is "amazing", her short-term memory is "shot". To the point where, "95% of the time" she "doesn't accept" she has frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

A relatively rare form of the disease, it accounts for less than 5% of cases and most often affects people aged between 45 and 64.

It is caused by damage to cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which regulate our personality, emotions and behaviour. The main symptom in her case, however, is her short-term memory.

"I don't know if she blocks it out because she knows there isn't a cure," he adds.

"She'll often say, 'I'm not ill, there's nothing wrong with me' and I say, 'Baby, you have dementia.' She always replies, 'Nobody has ever told me I have dementia'.

"Helen's a very proud woman, she certainly doesn't want sympathy. There are small signs lately that she is coming to terms with it. She told our son, Mark, the other day and she's told a couple of her closest friends."

Though in hindsight, Sir Jackie can pinpoint moments of uncharacteristic abruptness, many of the signs like forgetfulness and repeatedly asking the same question are easily attributed to age, meaning the diagnosis came as a, "total shock".

"I took her to three more separate specialists," he adds. "I was absolutely desperate, and hoping and praying one of them would say, 'It's a mistake' and then when I realised it was true, I clung to the hope one of them might have something to help her, but that didn't happen."

Determined to do whatever he can, Sir Jackie has put PS1 million into founding a charity, Race Against Dementia, to promote research into finding treatment and a cure for dementia to help his wife.

"My career in Formula One showed me how quickly change and innovation can happen and be made to happen when the best minds and skills are applied," he explains. "And this is what I hope for with this. …

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