There are 820,000 people with Alzheimer’s in the UK. Barbara Clarke, who lives with the disease, told us how she wants to live her life to the full before she loses her mind.

BARBARA Clarke has spent a lifetime caring for the elderly in East Lancashire in a job she loved.

And now, years before her time, the retired nurse is on the other side of the care system, relying on her NHS colleagues to get by.

For Barbara was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s when she was 64 and now her only day out of the house is a weekly trip to her local support group.

“It was three years ago when I first got diagnosed but it feels like yesterday,” recalled Barbara, who was based at Blackburn Royal Infirmary as well as working as a home helper during her career as a nurse.

“I had been very forgetful for a few years but it was put down to getting older at first.

"Then I started having these incidents where I’d get very confused.

“One day I was shopping in Blackburn and the sun was shining.

"We walked out of a shop and I turned to my husband Peter and said ‘I didn’t know we’d come on holiday’.

"I just didn’t know where I was. It was terrifying,” she said.

“I had some tests and my jaw dropped when the doctor told me that I had Alzheimer’s.

"I’ve been on medication ever since. I call it my little man with a rubber, erasing little parts of my brain.

"It’s only hit home quite recently that it’s real. I’ve accepted it now.”

There are 163,000 new cases of dementia in England and Wales each year — one every 3.2 minutes. Most are over 65, but more than 15,000 under-65s have a form of dementia.

Now 67, Barbara, who lives in the Roman Road area of Blackburn, says the support group — held at the Masonic Hall, Richmond Terrace — has become her lifeline.

But with a limited budget the group’s activities are restricted, and Barbara craves the days out she used to take for granted.

“It is a very lonely disease,” explained Barbara, who for 19 years volunteered at Roman Road Community Centre, and had her own community radio show before she was diagnosed.

“I can’t go out on my own now because I might have an episode where I don’t know where I am, and I might not come home.

"I do sometimes have panic attacks so I can’t be on my own in unfamiliar surroundings.

"So apart from my Tuesday group and when Peter is off work, I’m a bit of a prisoner in my own home.”

So with a glint in her eye Barbara, a great grandmother of four, has set about making it her mission to raise money to enable the group to go on day trips.

Her first fundraising project is jam-making and, with her husband, forklift truck driver Peter, 62, she has been hard at work in the kitchen all week.

Barbara said: “Peter makes the jam with me. I’m not allowed to use the cooker on my own now because I leave it on.

“We’re looking to do pickles and marmalades, too, soon and I have been selling them to local residents.

"But we need an outlet to reach a wider audience.

“We really need donations of fruit and jam jars to keep it going.

"I must thank All Fresh on Blackburn market for getting us started they have donated so much fruit.

“I would like to raise enough funds so that we can do more as a group.

"I want us to be able to go on day trips and to new places and try to live our lives fully.

For a lot of the group, this is our only social activity.

"We don’t want to be a burden to our families and children so the group is vital for giving everyone a break.

“We do have activities, I enjoy the bingo, the quiz, and the crafts is my favourite.

"I love making cards, but it takes me months to do one.

"It keeps my mind active and I push myself to keep my brain working.

“My aim is to raise as much funds as I can before my mind goes altogether.

"I would say to anyone who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to not be scared and to come to our group.

“I say that Peter is my rock and the group is my anchor. I’d be lost without either of them.”

n Jam jars and donations can be dropped off at Blackburn Community Mental Health Team based at Daisyfield Business Centre, Appleby Street, Blackburn. Contact 01254 226150.