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Prunella Scales health: 'It’s been incredibly tough' – The star's lengthy dementia battle

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In 2020, Scales filmed her final episode of Great Canal Journeys, as it was announced that the pair would be handing over presenting duties to Sheila Hancock and Gyles Brandreth. Since becoming public about her dementia both West and the couples son, Samuel West, who also stars in Channel 5’s All Creatures Great and Small have spoken plainly about the effect the condition is having on her, and the other health problems that are starting to creep in now she has reached the age of 89.

Having been married for nearly 60 years, Scales’ illness has also been hard on West. In an interview with Age UK back in April 2021, the pair revealed when they first noticed something was wrong, and how the diagnosis has changed their lives.

West said: “I was first conscious of things not being quite right about 15 years ago when I saw Pru in a play and I could see that she was having to think about the next line, which was unlike her.

“So she went for some tests and the doctor said he thought it was a vascular condition, rather than Alzheimer’s. It must be a mild form of dementia because the development has been remarkably slow.

“While Pru and I still go to the theatre, she doesn’t remember anything about it afterwards. It’s not possible to have the sort of conversations we used to have. We live for the moment. I find thinking about the past unhelpful, but it’s OK to be in the present because, from day to day, I don’t really notice any deterioration.”

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When asked if he has had to become more patient with his wife due to her early struggles with the condition, West replied: “Yes, and sometimes I’m not. I find myself saying the same thing over and over again to Pru, and she repeats the same thing lots of times, which is OK as long as I’m not trying to do something else at the same time.”

Dementia UK explains that the term is used to describe a number of different conditions that affect the brain. The condition makes it difficult for individuals to remember, make decisions and carry out everyday activities.

The most common types of dementia include the following:

  • Alzheimer’s disease – Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and makes up around 60 percent of diagnoses in the UK
  • Vascular dementia – Around 17 percent of people diagnosed with dementia will have vascular dementia. It is the second most common form of dementia in the over 65 age group
  • Frontotemporal dementia – The third most common dementia in people under the age of 65, but it occurs less in the over 65 age group
  • Mixed dementia – At least one in every ten people with dementia is diagnosed as having more than one type, or mixed dementia
  • Lewy body dementia – A progressive condition that affects movement and motor control
  • Alcohol related brain damage- Brain damage is caused by drinking alcohol excessively over a prolonged period of time
  • Posterior cortical atrophy – A rare form of dementia which people usually develop between the ages of 50 and 65 and often affects their sight
  • Huntington’s disease – A genetic disorder caused by a faulty gene on chromosome 4
  • Parkinson’s disease – It is estimated that Parkinson’s disease affects about one in 500 people, most commonly in those over 50.

As dementia is a progressive condition, symptoms will gradually become worse over time. This will mean that in the later stages of dementia, people will not be able to take care of themselves and could possibly lose their ability to communicate.

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The most common symptoms of the illness include:

  • Difficulty remembering recent events while having a good memory for past events
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty recognising people or objects
  • Poor organisation skills
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Slow, muddled or repetitive speech
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Problems with decision making, problem solving, planning and sequencing tasks.

Speaking about his mother’s symptoms, Samuel West spoke with The Telegraph back in November 2021. He said: “Dementia has largely taken away my mother’s personality, but it has left her in a fairly good mood most of the time.

“Although she’s quite deaf now, too, which makes conversation difficult, she’s cheery – which we’re all enormously grateful for. But I don’t know if she was necessarily aware of lockdown. That’s hard to say.

“She doesn’t have much short-term memory these days. And not much more goes in. She still recognises us and she knows I have two children – and that’s really good.”

West went on to add that the dementia is “quite hard” on his father Timothy as he has “lost his best friend,” but the 87-year-old still being able to work and keep busy is a great comfort, and keeps him from loneliness.

His father commented on the effect the condition has had on him, adding: “It’s been incredibly tough over the past 20 years to see the gradual disappearance of the person that I love.

“But we still enjoy life together and I can’t compare it with anything else at the moment. Pru is all right when she is with me and we get away to the Lake District for lovely walks and visit our favourite pub in West Wales, but when I’m working it’s not good.”

Although there is no current cure for dementia, the NHS explains that when individuals are diagnosed early, the progress of the condition can be slowed down. This means that the person is able to maintain their mental function for longer.

When seeing a GP, individuals will be asked about their symptoms and other aspects of their health in order to determine an accurate diagnosis. This is because having memory problems does not necessarily mean you have dementia.

These problems can have other causes, such as:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Confusion (delirium) caused by a medical condition, such as an infection
  • An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Side effects of some medicines.

Once diagnosed with dementia, it is important that individuals take care of their health. The NHS provides these tips for coping with dementia:

  1. Have a regular routine
  2. Put a weekly timetable on the kitchen wall or fridge, and try to schedule activities for when You feel better (for example, in the mornings)
  3. Put your keys in an obvious place, such as a large bowl in the hall
  4. Keep a list of helpful numbers (including who to contact in an emergency) by the phone
  5. Put regular bills on direct debits so you don’t forget to pay them
  6. Use a pill organiser box (dosette box) to help you remember which medicines to take when (your pharmacist can help you get one)
  7. Make sure your home is dementia-friendly and safe.

One of the main dementia charities is Alzheimer’s Society. Its website has information on all conditions that cause dementia, not just Alzheimer’s disease. It also has information and advice about living with dementia and finding help and support near you.



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