Sir Jackie Stewart, 84, admits he fears getting dementia after watching beloved wife Lady Helen lose her memories to the disorder: ‘Every time you forget a name you worry’
Sir Jackie Stewart admits he fears he may be diagnosed with dementia after supporting his wife with the neurodegenerative condition for almost a decade.
Life changed irreversibly for Formula 1 legend Sir Jackie, 84, and his wife Lady Helen, 82, after she was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia nine years ago – a less common form of the disease that can develop at a younger age.
Lady Helen, the former driver's childhood sweetheart, can no longer work and suffers from significant memory loss – a common feature among those suffering from the condition.
And Sir Jackie, who founded the Race Against Dementia charity with filmmaker son Mark after her diagnosis, fears he too will fall victim to the condition.
He told The Telegraph: 'Every time you forget a name, you worry. You think, 'Do I have it? Is that a sign?”
Sir Jackie Stewart admits he fears he will be diagnosed with dementia after supporting his wife with the neurodegenerative condition for almost a decade
Sir Jackie with wife Lady Helen, his childhood sweetheart, at the British Grand Prix in 1969
'Because you know this is a disease that affects so many people. Anyone and everyone. Like Helen.'
Sir Jackie recalled an incident involving his wife and admitted he was devastated when she struggled to recognize him as they relaxed together at home in Switzerland.
“Then one of her caregivers came into the room and asked if she needed anything,” he said. 'And Helen said, “Yes, can you tell me when Jackie's coming home?”
'I was sitting there next to her. This is my wife of 60 years, my timekeeper, my lap charter, the woman who stood next to me on the winners' podium. It absolutely breaks my heart.”
Race Against Dementia, a Formula 1 charity partner, aims to find a cure for the disease through global awareness and fundraising.
“More people in this country now die from dementia than from any other condition,” he said. 'We have no medicine for dementia. Unless we find a way to stop it, one in three people born today will die with it.”
The Formula 1 legend suffered a mini-stroke in June after collapsing in his hotel the night before he was due to attend the wedding of Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein in Amman.
Shortly afterwards he spoke about his fear of dementia, saying: 'I could easily have it. I've got everything going for it. I forget people's names and I'm not as sharp as I used to be.
Lady Helen, the former driver's childhood sweetheart, is no longer able to work and suffers from significant memory loss – a common feature among those suffering from the condition
Sir Jackie and Lady Helen at Buckingham Palace in 1972 after the racing legend was awarded the OBE
Sir Jackie, originally from Milton, Dunbartonshire, has described the disease's effect on families as 'appalling' (pictured with Lady Helen in 2022)
'If I've got it, I've got it. I'm still fully operational. But I'll probably get it. Dementia is the leading cause of death in Britain.'
Sir Jackie, originally from Milton, Dunbartonshire, has described the effect of the disease on families as 'appalling'.
Lady Helen's plight led him into what he called the biggest fight of his life: the creation of RAD to fund research to find a cure. He carries out this task with the same enthusiasm with which he transformed safety in Formula 1.
His charity recently announced a £3.75 million fund to recruit Britain's best researchers. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he said: 'The hardest part was being told there was nothing we could do about it.
'I didn't know anything about dementia before Helen was diagnosed. And when I asked them, “When can we do something about it?” and they said, “I'm sorry Jackie, we don't have a cure for it,” that was just devastating.
'When you are a driver, everything happens very quickly. In the UK we lead the world in technology.
'When I compare that to the fact that I and my wife have been in a situation like it is now for 60 years – I can't believe that we are paying for something that currently costs more lives than anything else in the world, including cancer , so far behind.
'The establishment has failed in this. That's why we're turning to young PhD students to find the answers.'