Michael Gambon health: Actor fears serious progressive disease – ‘It breaks my heart’

Alzheimer's: Dr Chris discusses the early signs of condition

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After four BAFTA awards and three Olivier awards, Sir Michael decided to stop working in theatre. The heartbreaking decision came as the actor struggled to remember his lines. The star first appeared on a professional stage in 1962, in a production of Othello but fast forward to 2015 and the star was being fed lined through an earpiece as he struggled to remember them all. In 2019, the star then pulled out of a TV comedy show after again struggling with memory loss. It was at this point that the star feared he might have Alzheimer’s.

After successfully taking part in a pilot episode of the Sky One comedy series Breeders, Sir Michael shocked executives after pulling out of the rest of the series which was granted 10 episodes.

At the time a source told The Sun: “Michael is an incredible actor, and was extremely popular on set.

“But age appears to have caught up with him and he was struggling with the script.

“Lines weren’t going in and sticking as they normally would.”

These worrying symptoms urged the star to get a medical opinion, fearing that symptoms are similar to those of Alzheimer’s.

The NHS explains that Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia in the UK. Although the exact cause of the condition is unknown, dementia is associated with symptoms of memory loss and other mental abilities.

As the condition is progressive, symptoms develop gradually over many years, eventually becoming so severe that symptoms appear. The first of which is minor memory problems.

The NHS states that individuals who forget about a recent conversation, events or forget names of places and objects are specific examples of minor memory loss.

As the condition develops, memory problems become more severe and further symptoms can develop, such as:

  • Confusion, disorientation and getting lost in familiar places
  • Difficulty planning or making decisions
  • Problems with speech and language
  • Problems moving around without assistance or performing self-care tasks
  • Personality changes, such as becoming aggressive, demanding and suspicious of others
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there) and delusions (believing things that are untrue)
  • Low mood or anxiety.

Most common in people over the age of 65, the risk of Alzheimer’s increases with age, with one in every six people over the age of 80 diagnosed with the condition.

Despite his similarities with symptoms, after being checked out by two doctors, Sir Michael’s Alzheimer’s tests were negative.

Talking about his struggle with memory loss Sir Michael added: “It’s a horrible thing to admit but I can’t do it. It breaks my heart. It’s when the script’s in front of me and it takes forever to learn. It’s frightening.

“There was a girl in the wings and I had a plug in my ear so she could read me the lines.

“And after about an hour I thought, this can’t work. You can’t be in theatre, free on stage shouting and screaming and running around, with someone reading your lines.

“The good news is that [Alzheimer’s] is not the case. It’s a real worry but there’s not much I can do about it.”

The Mayo Clinic explains that memory loss is a natural part of ageing. A notable decline in your memory is known as mild cognitive impairment, which sometimes develops into Alzheimer’s, but this is not the case for every individual.

Other reasons for memory loss and suffering from Alzheimer-like symptoms include the following:

  • Medications
  • Minor head trauma or injury
  • Emotional disorders
  • Alcoholism
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Brain disease.

If you are concerned about your memory loss it is important to see your doctor, who can test for conditions such as Alzheimer’s. This assessment will be largely question based and a GP will ask your family about any concerns you or your family may have.

Those with mild cognitive impairment should visit their doctor far more regularly to track changes in memory and other thinking skills over time. It is these slight changes that may indicate that an individual now has Alzheimer’s.

The National Institute of Ageing recommends these tips to help deal with forgetfulness:

  • Learn a new skill.
  • Follow a daily routine.
  • Plan tasks, make to-do lists, and use memory tools such as calendars and notes.
  • Put your wallet or purse, keys, phone, and glasses in the same place each day.
  • Stay involved in activities that can help both the mind and body.
  • Get enough sleep, generally seven to eight hours each night.
  • Exercise and eat well.
  • Prevent or control high blood pressure.
  • Don’t drink a lot of alcohol.
  • Get help if you feel depressed for weeks at a time.

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