Spotlight: Mark MacDonald, Associate Director of Advocacy and System Change

Find out more about what Mark MacDonald does at Alzheimer’s Society.

Why dementia, why the Society? 

Like loads of people, we’ve had dementia in my family. In an ideal world, you try to do something professionally that helps shift the dial on something you care about. In the privileged position I’m in, I’m able to do that. 

There’s also an overwhelming case for change in dementia – things aren’t good enough for people affected.

A big part of my job is to try to pull levers with decision-makers to make them better, and that’s a very motivating place to be in.

Mark MacDonald

How to fill an unexpected day off? 

I’d take to the hills! I live in a very beautiful part of Scotland and, after having spent nearly 10 years living in London, every opportunity I get, I get into the hills, which are almost on my doorstep. 

I just walk and walk and walk, and there are lots of new hills to explore while listening to the football on the radio, or to an audiobook or podcast. 

Proudest achievement? 

Apart from the obvious ones, like being a dad and having bought our first ever house, it’s actually passing the fitness exam to get into the police. 

I ended up failing the final interview, but getting as far as I got required me to pass a fitness test to quite a high level.

I was starting from a pretty poor base – I am not a natural athlete! 

Worst advice you’ve been given? 

I’ve been told by quite a lot of people to ‘go with the flow’, and to me that often means ‘don’t challenge the status quo’.

In the type of work that I do, that means ‘try not to make things better as quickly as possible’, which doesn’t sit well with me. 

Biggest priority for coming months? 

At a fundamental level, it’s making dementia more of a priority for decision-makers across all of our three nations – everything flows from that. 

We recently did a review of all the local health and social care systems out there, and only a tiny number of their strategies mention dementia at all.

In a world where politicians are saying to local leaders, ‘Look here’s the power, here’s the money, go and respond to the needs of your local populations,’ if hardly any of them are talking about dementia, then we know we’ve got a big job to do. 

Most important thing learned from a person with dementia? 

Everyone’s experience in living with dementia is different.

Everyone responds in a different way, has different living arrangements, lives in a different bit of the country, their friends and family are different – how can one experience ever be the same as someone else’s?

Understanding that diversity of experience and that natural difference among people living with dementia makes us more able to do our jobs.

We need to make sure decision-makers understand that difference as well. 

Most looking forward to? 

Becoming a dad for the second time is happening soon! Professionally, building on the progress we’ve had this year as a Society, working in a complex and volatile environment.

Yes that’s challenging, but for myself and for my team, it’s a stimulating challenge.

It means being relentlessly focused on what we believe we can have an impact in shifting, in areas like diagnosis. 

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