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Actor Stephen Fry is urging the public to donate money to dementia research in the hope that future generations “will only be reading about Alzheimer’s and not experiencing it”.
“I remember visiting the mother of a friend in the very severe stages of dementia and seeing her not recognise her own son", the broadcaster said.
“Humans are ultimately social animals and the idea of being isolated from our social networks is as frightening as anything can be. Dementia is one of the most pernicious and unacceptable things that can happen and it can happen to anyone – even those most special to us.”
Dementia: ‘No respecter of persons’
Mr Fry’s comments were made to promote the relaunch of Alzheimer’s Research UK's ‘Santa Forgot’ animation again this Christmas, which features the actor’s voice narrating a story about Santa Claus who has dementia.
“History has shown that dementia is no respecter of persons” he said. “Iris Murdoch had one of the greatest minds that the twentieth century ever produced, as a philosopher and a novelist, but she succumbed very quickly and very terribly to dementia. Santa Forgot imagines a world where not even Santa is immune to its devastating effect.”
The Santa Forgot animation, created by Aardman Animations, is being shared across social media in the run-up to Christmas and imagines a world where Santa develops dementia, gets presents muddled up and eventually stops delivering gifts to children across the world. However, the story is one of hope with Freya persuading Santa’s elves to get together to find a cure, as the tale shows dementia is caused by physical diseases like Alzheimer’s which can be beaten through research.
In the last year, dementia has become the UK’s leading cause of death for the first time - only this month overtaking heart disease as the UK’s biggest killer. Since Santa Forgot first launched last Christmas, over 200,000 more people in the UK have developed the condition and Stephen Fry said: “They’re surrounded by families that may be struggling to cope this Christmas”.
Mr Fry said: "But I have real optimism that with the support of the public, things can change rapidly. What matters to me so much is that Alzheimer’s Research UK is determined to find ways to defeat it so that future generations will only be reading about Alzheimer’s and not experiencing it.
“Part of the extraordinary revolution in human congress that has happened since the internet and social media have devoured our lives so much, is that we’ve become far more aware of the social network that connects us and of the stories of how dementia affects people. For me, Santa Forgot is a wonderful way of telling that story and showing the effects of dementia so clearly to people."
The animation reached almost 14 million people online last year and was voted November’s best communications campaign by PRWeek - beating competition from the John Lewis and Marks and Spencer Christmas adverts.
He added: “The public’s response to Santa Forgot last Christmas has helped the charity invest more than ever to drive new breakthroughs in research this year and the pace of progress is improving. There is still a lot of work to do, but it is an exciting period for neuroscience.
“The human brain is the most complex organism known in the universe and the human mind really is the final frontier. If I were a young student now I would put everything I had into trying to understand it – like a seafarer in the 18th century discovering the world and new continents. We will see the same breakthroughs in dementia that we’ve seen in heart disease and cancer, we just need to support our scientists.“
Ciana Ayre, aged 22, provided the voice of the little girl, Freya in Santa Forgot. She said: “It’s been four years since we lost Dad to early-onset Alzheimer’s and I was only 18 at the time. While I have my mum and sister Chrissi by my side, there will always be a hole where my dad should be.
She added: “I know my dad would have been proud of my role in the animation and I hope people share its important message again this year.”
To watch and share the animation on social media visit: www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/santa-forgot
To donate £5 to Alzheimer’s Research UK text ‘BELIEVE’ to 70755.