A 59-year-old Saltby man who suffers from dementia has been working with two former Premier League football stars on a campaign which aims to give non-sufferers a better understanding of the condition.
Steve Freer appears in a short film, shot by the Alzheimer’s Society charity, which has been shown in cinemas across the UK to mark Dementia Action Week.
He takes part in a walking football match with fellow sufferers and ex-Leicester City captain Walsh and talks about how he has suffered from memory loss through his illness.
The father-of-two also speaks about his symptoms with another former City favourite, Robbie Savage, in a video which was created through the society’s partnership with bookmaker’s, William Hill, and which has been viewed extensively online.
Promoting the campaign’s #AskUsAnything message in the film with Walsh, Steve explains how important sessions at the Alzheimer’s Society centre at Leicester have been to how he has coped with the illness over the last four years.
“What I would like to see as time goes on is that people become less apprehensive about meeting someone with dementia because I don’t think they should be,” he said.
“I’m the same person, I just forget.
“The Alzheimer’s group has made a big change in how I live with dementia and I would like to say a big thanks to all those involved.
“For me they’ve changed my life for the better.”
Steve is welll known in Melton sporting circles, managing junior teams at Waltham and at Asfordby Amateurs and being a stalwart of Frisby, Hoby and Rotherby Cricket Club for more than 30 years alognside stints with Melton Mowbray and Thorpe Arnold.
As a lifelong Leicester City fan who is still a season ticket holder, he was clearly thrilled to work with Walsh and Savage, whose late father suffered from Alzheimer’s.
In the video with Savage, Steve recalls watching his first live match in 1969. He says he remembers it was against Manchester City and that Alan Clarke scored a hat-trick but he suffers from terrible short-term memory as a result of his condition. Football programmes help him to remember.
“I never thought I would be how I am now,” he says in the video.
“I am very keen to know what I want to know and try and capture that. How I am now I am going to have to change how I capture that because it’s no good trying to remember it. I forget everything.”
Steve, who worked at Mars Petcare at Waltham and latterly at RS Components at Corby, has been married to Carol for 31 years and the couple have two sons, Lee and Ben.
In the film, Carol recalls the first symptoms of his dementia: “He couldn’t remember things I told him five minutes before.
“If you gave him a list of any description, shopping, he’d come back with something completely different even though he’d got a list.”
She admits to having cried privately about her husband’s health saying: “You grieve really for the future you wanted.”
But Carol praises the support they have both had from the charity, adding: “Steve was in a dark place last year because he hadn’t had the diagnosis that long.
“This centre has given him a sense of purpose and he wants to make sure that Alzheimer’s gets the same attention as other charities.”
Dementia affects 12,000 people living in Leicestershire and the campaign revealed research which showed that despite almost everyone knowing someone affected by the condition, two-thirds of people living with the illness reported feeling isolated and lonely, partly because others felt awkward around them.
In the UK, one person develops dementia every three minutes so small acts of kindness such as calling a relative with dementia, visiting a neighbour or becoming a Dementia Friend, can help towards creating a dementia-friendly generation.
Helen Whittington, services manager for the Alzheimer’s Society in Leicestershire, said: “Many people are worried about saying the wrong thing to someone with dementia, yet a friendly face or listening ear can make the world of difference.
“Even in the later stages of dementia when having a conversation might become difficult, keeping in touch can bring feelings of happiness and comfort, especially as the emotional memory remains with them long after the memory of the visit may have gone.”
She added: “We all have a role in Leicestershire to help create a dementia-friendly generation, changing the way people think, talk and act about dementia.
“There are currently around 2.8 million Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends in the UK and 400 dementia-friendly businesses and communities.
“Alzheimer’s Society is determined to make sure no-one with dementia has to face a future alone.”