'There's no Becky left' - Sister's heartbreak casts light on impending dementia crisis
PUBLISHED: 05:30 17 May 2019 | UPDATED: 09:24 17 May 2019
The sister of a talented young ski instructor struck down by dementia aged just 31 has shared her harrowing story - as Suffolk braces itself for a huge rise in the number of people living with the condition.
New figures published in the State of Suffolk Report 2019 show the county is currently home to 13,000 people living with dementia - with the number of cases set to rise to 23,000 by 2040.
But for Becky Barletta, who lives in Hundon near Sudbury, the devastating reality of the condition is already far too familiar.
The 34-year-old was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, a hereditary condition, when she was just 31 and newly married.
Over the past few years, Becky's sister, Sophie Gilbert, has seen the once bubbly and lively ski instructor become a "shell" of her former self - a process she has described as "devastating".
"She is very much a shell - there is no Becky left. We lost her relatively quickly," she said.
"She is still here but she's not at all, really. It is obviously devastating to watch.
"Luckily she lived her life to 110%, always. She fitted more in than I would - in the rest of her life she travelled, she was a ski instructor, she was a photographer, and she had thousands of friends."
The 32-year-old, who lives next door to Becky, said the pair were lucky to be so close to Cambridge where "amazing research is going on".
But she said she worries for families who are on their own - especially if the demand is set to grow in future.
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"To not have that support would just be devastating and make the whole thing even worse," she said.
"For people without a network close by it must be really hard."
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said agencies must work together to provide the "best possible" care for those living with the condition.
"A particular challenge for Suffolk is the rural nature of our county because we know that loneliness and social isolation can make life much harder for people with dementia, and their carers," he said.
"Much is happening to provide everything from early intervention and awareness raising to treatment and care. It is so very important that all of this comes from a very wide range of agencies and groups outside of the health and care services such as our GP practices, hospitals and social care.
"The scale of the challenge faced nationally and, even more so locally, means that individual agencies and groups must work together collaboratively in order to provide the best possible health and care environment and support for those living with dementia and their carers."
What is frontotemporal dementia?
Poor judgement, a loss of empathy and difficulty speaking are just some of the symptoms of hereditary condition frontotemporal dementia.
As Alzheimer's Society research officer Tim Shakespeare explains, the illness causes damage to parts of the brain which are responsible for our behaviour, our emotional responses and our language skills.
This type of dementia is less common than other forms such as Alzheimer's disease and predominantly affects younger people.
He said: "There are more than 42,000 people with young-onset dementia - which is anyone diagnosed under the age of 65 - in the UK.
"Being diagnosed at a younger age is likely to present a different set of challenges - for example the person may still be working, have financial commitments or dependent children."