ACTRESS Barbara Windsor openly campaigned for a dementia charity before her death from Alzheimer's Disease, while Sean Connery's wife only disclosed he had been suffering from the illness after he died in November.

The family of Celtic legend Billy McNeill chose to delay making his diagnosis public, while author Terry Pratchet's public announcement that he had an early onset form of dementia, around eight years before his death, was described as a 'watershed moment' for the profile of the illness.

Celebrity endorsement or support can be lucrative for charities, which are largely reliant on public donations. The Alzheimer Society said Barbara Windsor's involvement had led to its most successful London marathon fundraising campaign.

However, Professor June Andrews, a leading authority on dementia, says those in the public eye should not feel obligated to reveal what can be an, "intensely private sorrow".


The death of reality TV contestant Jade Goody in February 2009 led to a surge in cervical cancer screening, after she made her diagnosis public, six months earlier.

However Prof Andrews suggests there is no comparable or tangible benefit for diseases like dementia, for which there is currently no screening tool.

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She said: "First, asking celebrities to speak about any illness needs a better excuse than awareness raising unless their illness is very rare.  

"Dementia is common, and awareness is already high.  

"See how often it is on the front pages of the news. It is a lot to ask of someone for no benefit. "Wanting to exhibit someone who was once powerful and important as they fade is like voyeurism, where people are entertained by the pain and distress of others.

"It is “infotainment" ie entertainment masquerading as information.


"Second, as dementia progresses the person becomes more frail and is dying. How are we to decide when enough is enough when the person has no capacity to decide for themselves?

"Third, there is a clear contrast with someone like Jade Goody who, with all her capacity to make decisions still intact, chose to use her high profile to encourage other women to act to use screening to prevent themselves dying like her from cancer. 

"There is no equivalent in dementia."

Prof Andrews said choosing to make a diagnosis public can also backfire for the celebrity: "The person who is the “poster boy” for Alzheimer’s will get dropped like a hot rock if he advocates euthanasia."

Kate Lee, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer's Society said Barbara Windsor and husband Scott's involvement with charity had not only raised huge amounts of money but had been instrumental in highlighting the 'dire' state of social care.

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Lynsey Neilson, is project manager at Glasgow's Golden Generation, which runs day centres across the city for older people, many of whom have dementia, helping them to live independent lives for as long as possible.

She asked Dorothy McFadyen, who has dementia, for her thoughts and said she believes celebrities should be more open about their diagnosis because, “It’s nothing to be ashamed about and it’s not something you ask for."

Ms Neilson said celebrities should not feel obligated to make their illness public but suggests it might encourage others to seek help for the disease at an earlier stage.

"It is great to see dementia being talked about more openly in the press as it takes a lot of the fear and stigma away from the condition which is so important," said Ms Neilson.

"The more it is talked about, the more people are likely to seek help. 

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"There have been a number of high profile individuals in the media who have spoken more about their condition and I think this can be really helpful to raise awareness of dementia and its effects. 

"Everyone deals with the condition differently and no one should ever feel that they must disclose that they have dementia publicly if they don’t want to. 

"However, when celebrities do speak about it, this can help to normalise the condition and make other people feel less alone which is so important.”

The Herald is backing Alzheimer Scotland's campaign for improved financial support for care home residents with advanced dementia.