Alastair Stewart on living well with dementia: “Stop smoking, go for a walk and do puzzles”

How the veteran newsreader made positive changes to his lifestyle after his vascular dementia diagnosis.

When Alastair Stewart began to feel “discombobulated”, he feared he had the signs of early onset vascular dementia – and after his GP confirmed the diagnosis, he’s taken positive steps to improve his lifestyle.

In a GB News interview with former colleague Camilla Tominey, Stewart revealed how he overhauled his lifestyle by stopping smoking, embracing the benefits of walking and keeping his brain active with puzzles and wordsearches.

“I wasn’t becoming forgetful,” he said. But he did notice classic signs such as problems with planning and organising. As he describes it, “things like doing up your shoelaces properly, making sure your tie is straight, remembering the call time for your programme… not turning up early or late”.

Alastair StewartCredit: GB News

Positive and practical steps – and plenty of puzzles

Worried that he might have early onset dementia, Stewart went to see his GP and the newsreader received a diagnosis of vascular dementia after a brain scan.

“It was like a scene from Casualty or Emergency Ward 10. I had indeed had a series of minor strokes that are called infarct strokes,” he said.

But with a positive attitude and lifestyle changes, Stewart is a masterclass in living well with the disease and finding ways to improve brain health.

“There are bits and pieces you can do to stop it getting worse,” he said. “With vascular dementia you can’t cure it, but you can ameliorate it. I’ve given up smoking and that helps. I take the dogs for a purposeful, slightly longer walk than I used to. My diet’s OK, I don’t drink heavily and I haven’t done for some time.”

Puzzles and wordsearches help to keep his brain active, and although his short-term memory sometimes fails him, he’s excited about the next general election and can recall past results and details. He admits he relies on his wife Sally to help him out day-to-day.

Newsreader Alastair StewartCredit: Shutterstock / Simon Burchell / Featureflash
Alastair Stewart with fellow newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky in 2012

“Long-term and medium-term memory is not a problem at all,” says Stewart. “My very short-term memory is sometimes a bit slow and I tend to write a lot more down on a little notebook or the blackboard in the kitchen so I remember what I’m doing tomorrow.

“But when it’s things that really matter like medical appointments, Sal does all of that. If the GP phones up or I get a letter I just hand it over to Sal because that’s something important I don’t want to get wrong.”

He’s also conscious that spatial awareness could become a problem, but he hasn’t noticed this in his own experience. However, telling the time can sometimes be tricky.

“One weird thing is old-fashioned clocks,” he said. “If I glance at a digital one it’s not a problem, but with an analogue one or the big clock in the kitchen, it sometimes takes me a while. I’m not allowed to set it any more because I always get it wrong.”

Stewart said the diagnosis left him “relieved because I knew there was something amiss, but I wasn’t sure what it was”.

And now he has a warning to others who might be in the same situation. “The connection with blood pressure is absolutely the headline,” he said. “If you think you’ve got what I’ve got – or you might develop it – stop smoking. If you have the occasional glass of wine, fair enough. If you regularly get completely out of it, stop. If you do go for a walk occasionally, do it more frequently.”

How to reduce your risk of vascular dementia

Stewart’s attitude is an inspiration to people living with vascular dementia. GP Dr Claire Ashley, who also runs a mental wellbeing app, agrees that lifestyle changes can prevent the causes and help you to live well if you are diagnosed with it.

“Vascular dementia has the same risk factors as those for heart disease, so in short anything that is good for your heart health is also protective against it,” Dr Ashley told Saga Exceptional.

“In terms of medical risk factors, keeping your blood pressure under control is the most important thing. As you get older, your blood vessels become stiffer, so if your doctor recommends medication for your blood pressure, please do take it.

“The other thing that is important to control is your cholesterol, so again if your doctor recommends a statin then again do take it, as it will help to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as vascular dementia.”

Other lifestyle choices Dr Ashley recommends are:

And if you’re diagnosed with vascular dementia, Dr Ashley recommends prioritising your quality of life, so the important thing is to carry on doing what you love. “Keeping physically active and engaging the brain with small and achievable tasks such as puzzles are ideal. Social connection is key too, as loneliness is a huge risk to your physical and mental health,” she said.

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier

Updated:

Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

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