A mother-of-two woman who received the “breaking” news that she had Alzheimer’s at the age of 57, has since understood that “life can be rich” and wants to encourage others with similar symptoms to get a diagnosis. new challenges she now faces.
Jude Thorp, 59, who lives in Oxford, said she first started noticing changes in her cognitive abilities in 2016 while working at The National Theatre.
Jude had extensive experience and loved his job, but struggled to complete easy tasks.
“The last time I was at The National I wasn’t really playing my best game,” he said.
“It was a really simple show, I could stand on my head and I was worried and I didn’t know where I was. I was just very surprised.
Jude was having bouts of amnesia, frequently asking the same question multiple times, and forgetting important conversations about plans.
Jude also felt really tired and struggled with speech and word finding.
“It was scary to do something and not remember doing it, especially being in a job situation,” he added.
Jude believed these symptoms were related to menopause, which usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, according to the NHS.
Because of her young age, she “couldn’t think” she might have dementia, but her husband, 53-year-old Becky Hall, a leadership and life coach and author, encouraged her to see a counselor.
At the first appointment in November 2016, Jude said her symptoms were dismissed and attributed to stress, which she said was “humiliating.”
“Imagine being told you’re a little stupid,” he said.
“It was the first time in my life that I was going to the doctors for anything serious and it was horrible and then they said I was okay.”
Jude said her first counselor told her she was experiencing symptoms of memory loss because “too much was going on” in her life.
But Jude and Becky didn’t stop there as they continued to seek answers.
Jude visited two more consultants before undergoing an MRI and a lumbar puncture, a procedure used to collect cerebrospinal fluid samples from the waist.
After that, Jude was given a formal diagnosis of teen-onset dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease, in January 2021 – years after his first appointment.
“It was devastating because I didn’t know what it meant and what was going to happen,” he said. “I think I put my life on hold for a while.”
Jude said it was “very difficult” to have to break the news to her two daughters, Izzy (19) and Iona (17), but she also felt a relief because “the worst part” was not knowing.
He explained: “You must grieve, you must be resentful, angry, or sad. I mean, it’s part of grieving for something, right?
“But for me, I’m very lucky to get this diagnosis because I can still live well with it.”
According to the specialist dementia nurse charity Dementia UK, dementia is defined as ‘young onset’ when symptoms appear before age 65.
Figures released by Dementia UK in September show a “hidden population” of 70,800 people in the UK currently living with young-onset dementia.
The charity says there is a misconception that dementia only affects the elderly, and that more needs to be done to dispel this myth.
After being diagnosed, Jude’s GP put him in touch with Dementia UK’s Young Dementia Oxfordshire service, which Jude described as his “lifeline”.
His family received special support and advice to help them cope with the daily emotional and practical challenges of living with dementia.
Jude explained that she met several people with dementia through her charity, which was “great” because they were “all in the same boat.”
Acknowledging that her diagnosis was extremely difficult, Jude explained that it also allowed her to “bloom” and continue doing activities she loved, like swimming.
In 2021, after being diagnosed, Jude completed a charity swim, raising £4,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association, and recently attended the North East Skinny Dip in Northumberland.
Jude also volunteers for a number of food banks that she really enjoys, and is involved in various research programs to help healthcare professionals better understand the condition.
Jude encourages anyone who is concerned about their own symptoms to get a diagnosis because now she thinks she can be herself again.
“I think accepting any diagnosis allows you to bloom in a way,” she said. “And I think it’s really important for life to be rich.”
“I think it’s about living your life to the fullest and doing your best.”
Jude’s best friend of 42 years, Johnty Downham, 61, a former actor living in Oxford, was extremely supportive and said he admired her positive demeanor.
He said: “The diagnosis meant that the support was coming from Dementia UK and you weren’t in a state of worry and anxiety and had no idea why as a person or friend it wasn’t the same as what they used to be, which is really scary.
“While it was scary to learn about it, it came with a lot of positive things in the end.
“He was embarrassed and had no explanation before he realized it, and so, in a sense, getting acknowledgment that something was wrong was more positive in the end.”
To learn more about what Dementia UK does, visit www.dementiauk.org.