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Actor John Middleton as Ashley Thomas in Emmerdale

It is now six months since Emmerdale character Ashley Thomas was diagnosed with early-onset vascular dementia – and almost a year since MHA started its involvement with ITV on the storyline.

Since then, we have read and checked numerous scripts for the researchers and writers as Ashley’s condition develops as well as giving our opinion on future storylines to make sure it is as accurate as possible.

The show, along with actor John Middleton who plays Ashley, really want to make sure the storyline line and scenes are as realistic as possible, as John told us.

He said: “The reaction so far to Ashley’s storyline has been good and positive. It’s incredibly important for Emmerdale to tackle the storyline and get it right. We could have done it in an almost exploitative way. But we didn’t want to do that.

“People do believe we are getting it right. They are coming up to me and telling me about their experiences. What we are beginning to realise is how big an issue dementia is – and it’s getting bigger as we live longer. In the past we would have passed away long before any symptoms would have developed.”

As part of John’s research, he visited MHA’s Glen Rosa care home in Ilkley and its dementia wing, the Kitwood Unit. He also brought along colleague Charlotte Bellamy, who plays Ashley’s wife Laurel in the show.

One of the outcomes means that John says he is much more comfortable and less worried about meeting and interacting with people living with dementia.

“I remember thinking and saying to Charlotte that when we go to Glen Rosa we will be meeting people with dementia. But that it would be no where near as upsetting for us as their families.

“That’s because we were meeting them as they are now, whereas their family and friends remember them as they were. And that’s what’s upsetting, the diminishing of a person.

“We were meeting people as they are and they were very happy at the home. But they are very, very lucky in that home because the standard of care was lovely, with the people giving it drawn to that job as a vocation.”

John’s research has also meant he has learnt what he describes as ‘surprising’ things about dementia, as well as the more well known symptoms, as well as learning things he says he will remember for the rest of his life.

He learnt about the issues of spacial awareness people with dementia experience and the difficulty they experience in tasks such as climbing stairs because of it, which came as a surprise to him.

He also learnt that dementia is not just about the individual but also the people around them who care for them – and this is coming out more and more in the storyline as Ashley’s condition develops.

“It is great that Ashley has the support of Laurel in the show,” says John. “As part of our research, we visited a group who mainly help support people with early onset dementia. They were telling us very clearly that the storyline should be as much about the carers as the person with dementia.

“And we are finding that. The person with dementia is rarely on their own. There is always someone there because the person living with dementia needs it. And it is someone doing everything for them – things you never would necessarily think about doing for another person because they can be intimate.

“And because they are intimate or could be embarrassing, they need someone there who has an extraordinary love.

“And the reality is, is that they story we are telling in Emmerdale is an extraordinary love story with a very tragic ending.”

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