Football legend Sir Geoff Hurst MBE and cycling champion Geraint Thomas OBE surprise sports fans in support of Alzheimer’s Society

Former English striker, Sir Geoff Hurst and 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas took part in surprising two sports fans living with dementia to highlight the importance of human contact in lockdown.

Sir Geoff Hurst Video Call

People with dementia are worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and account for over a quarter of deaths due to the virus, in the UK so far. There is also an additional rise in unexplained deaths from dementia – 52% higher than anticipated for this time of year - which the charity believes is in part due to social isolation leading to distress and cognitive impairment as well as reduction in essential care and support.

To raise awareness of the importance of social contact for people with dementia, Sir Geoff Hurst MBE and cycling champion Geraint Thomas OBE have surprised two sports fans living with dementia on a video call to explore the challenges they have faced during lockdown, and to urge people to support Alzheimer’s Society’s Emergency Appeal.

Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Connect support line hears daily from people reporting themselves or their loved ones rapidly going downhill due to the lack of social contact, and no friends or family being able to visit. Over three quarters (78%) of people affected by dementia disclose that the coronavirus pandemic has made them feel more lonely or isolated than before. Such isolation can cause permanent deterioration over a short period of time including the loss of speech, loss of abilities including eating, and depression. Alzheimer’s Society has made nearly 100,000 welfare calls, helping people with dementia cope with the crisis, such as support getting food and medicine, and people say these calls have been a lifeline to them.  

Unfortunately, like other charities, Alzheimer’s Society has been hard hit financially by the crisis, and has therefore launched an Emergency Appeal to ask the public to give what they can to help continue these vital services. 

Currently at a training camp near Nice, ahead of this year’s Tour de France, Geraint Thomas surprised cycling fanatic Peter Berry, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease six years ago, at the age of 50. Peter, from Suffolk, suddenly found himself struggling with his memory, making him unable to work or run his much-loved business. This caused, him to sink into a deep depression and kept his diagnosis a secret for around a year, struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Peter decided to take active steps to managing his depression like cycling. He cycles nearly every day, either alone, or with his wife or cycling partner Deb, and cycles about 700 miles a month. He now rides single speed bikes as he is beginning to find changing gears more challenging. Peter currently owns five bikes, including a penny farthing. 

Peter Berry, 56, said:

'I was thrilled to have received a video call from my idol, Geraint Thomas who shares a passion for the two things closest to my heart; cycling and raising awareness of dementia. I’ve always said that I have a dementia monster who sits on the settee and he is in control. When I go cycling, I leave my dementia monster at home and I’m in control. My condition has taken so much from me, but it hasn’t taken the cycling; it’s still one of the things I can do very well.'

Geraint Thomas OBE, 34, said:

'Peter was an absolute joy to chat to, he clearly has a love for cycling, and I was pleasantly surprised to know that he also owns a penny farthing!

This pandemic has been really disruptive for everyone, but it’s clear that people with dementia are bearing the brunt of it and having to constantly adjust to a different way of life at a time when routine is crucial. I hope people support Alzheimer’s Society to make a real difference to the lives of people with dementia.

Footballing legend, Sir Geoff Hurst, who famously scored a hat-trick for England in the World Cup final against West Germany in 1966, used this videocall to surprise football fan Jack Cash from Northern Ireland, who was diagnosed with vascular dementia three years ago. 

Jack Cash, 69, said:

'I’ve played other sports, but football has always been my passion, so it was an honour to speak to Sir Geoff. The pandemic has really disrupted my routine and my role as a kit man in the local football team that I’m involved with. I used to look forward to interacting with the players and getting the football kits delivered on a Tuesday for the match on the Saturday, and as soon as the match was over, I would look forward to the next one the following week.'

The pair discussed their excitement to see the return of the league on the television, and football’s comeback is a reassuring indication that life is returning back to normal. Sir Geoff was also amused to learn that Jack is the only Liverpool FC supporter in his family, who are all Manchester United supporters. 

Sir Geoff Hurst MBE, 78, said:

'I’ve been a supporter of Alzheimer’s Society for a few years now, as dementia is something that has hit me hard.

Some of my World Cup colleagues are living with dementia, and sadly of course, Martin Peters who I met as a teenager playing for West Ham. It was a very sad blow when Martin passed away from dementia last year.

'It was a pleasure to speak to Jack about the excitement of having football back on our screens, and to share how we’ve both kept busy during the lockdown.'

Kate Lee, Chief Executive Officer at Alzheimer’s Society said:

'Every day we hear from relatives who are deeply concerned about their loved one with dementia and are seeing how quickly their condition is deteriorating before their eyes due to lack of social contact and disruption to routine. Carers have told us that they are seeing their loved one ‘physically shutting down’, and in so much distress that they cannot eat or drink.

Even though we are now emerging from the lockdown and some of us are returning to a more normal way of life, it’s important to remember that this period of isolation is continuing for many people with dementia and is permanently damaging for them. 

'Our support services have been used over half a million times since lockdown began – showing that people affected by dementia need services like our Dementia Connect support line now more than ever, at a time when we face financial hardship. We are so grateful for every penny donated to our Emergency Appeal, so that we can continue supporting the 850,000 people with dementia in the UK and those closest to them, both now, and in the time ahead.'

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