Journalist and broadcaster Fiona Phillips has announced she is suffering from Alzheimer’s at the age of just 62, as she told the world: ‘It ravaged my family, now it has come for me’.
The devastating dementia disease killed both her parents, and the writer has now revealed she, too, has been given the ‘heartbreaking’ diagnosis.
Ms Phillips told the Mirror she had received the news around a year ago, having suffered from months of brain fog and anxiety.
The former breakfast TV host said: ‘This disease has ravaged my family and now it has come for me. And all over the country there are people of all different ages whose lives are being affected by it – it’s heartbreaking.
‘I just hope I can help find a cure which might make things better for others in the future.’
Journalist and broadcaster Fiona Phillips has announced she is suffering from Alzheimer’s at the age of just 62
Fiona Williams pictured with her father, Neville, who died from the disease in 2012
It is understood she is undergoing a potentially revolutionary trial with a new drug which is hoped will slow or even reverse the illness for millions of people.
The former GMTV host told the Mirror, which she writes a regular column for, she had not dreamed she would experience the illness until she was much older.
‘It’s something I might have thought I’d get at 80’, she says. ‘But I was still only 61 years old.
‘I felt more angry than anything else because this disease has already impacted my life in so many ways; my poor mum was crippled with it, then my dad, my grandparents, my uncle. It just keeps coming back for us.’
She added it was a ‘b****y horrible’ secret to share.
She is currently being supported by her husband, TV’s This Morning editor Martin Frizell, 64, who she married in 1997. He said: ‘Tragically Fiona’s family has been riddled with it [Alzheimer’s].’
They are parents to Nat, 24, and Mackenzie, 21.
The couple explained how Ms Phillips originally saw the onset of severe anxiety, which she believed was related to the Menopause.
But after symptoms such as brain fog continued despite the use of HRT, she went for further testing which ultimately ended in diagnosis with Alzheimer’s.
Describing the moment she was diagnosed, Ms Phillips said it was a ‘total shock’, while Mr Frizell said he ‘felt sick’. The couple went for a drink at a nearby bar, where they are now regulars.
She is now taking part in a drug trial, Miridesap, at University College Hospital in London – but with half the participants receiving a placebo, it is impossible to know whether she is actually being given the drug.
Her husband said he believes her condition is ‘stabilising’, but admitted this could be ‘wishful thinking’.
Ms Phillips has previously spoken about the deaths of both her parents from Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s also killed her mother Amy in 2006, after she began experiencing symptoms in her early 50s
Fiona Phillips pictured with husband Martin Frizell, who she married in 1997
Ms Phillips presented GMTV for more than a decade before leaving the show (pictured: Ms Phillips alongside Eamonn Holmes)
Her father Neville died in February 2012, while her mother Amy passed away with the disease in May 2006.
Ms Phillips has frequently spoken out about the disease and campaigned for Alzheimer’s Research UK.
What is Alzheimer’s and how is it treated?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, in which build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.
This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink.
More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.
As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.
That includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason.
The progress of the disease is slow and gradual.
On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live for ten to 15 years.
- Loss of short-term memory
- Behavioral changes
- Mood swings
- Difficulties dealing with money or making a phone call
- Severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
- Becoming anxious and frustrated over inability to make sense of the world, leading to aggressive behavior
- Eventually lose ability to walk
- May have problems eating
- The majority will eventually need 24-hour care
HOW IT IS TREATED?
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
However, some treatments are available that help alleviate some of the symptoms.
One of these is Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors which helps brain cells communicate to one another.
Another is menantine which works by blocking a chemical called glutamate that can build-up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease inhibiting mental function.
As the disease progresses Alzheimer’s patients can start displaying aggressive behaviour and/or may suffer from depression. Drugs can be provided to help mitigate these symptoms.
Other non-pharmaceutical treatments like mental training to improve memory helping combat the one aspect of Alzheimer’s disease is also recommended.
Speaking on This Morning in 2016, she told how her mother began developing early onset symptoms as young as 53, before eventually dying at the age of 74.
Her father developed symptoms in his 60s and moved into a ‘warden-assisted’ flat, before being transferred to a psychiatric hospital shortly before his death at 76.
Speaking of the moment she started to realise her mother had the condition, she said: ‘I noticed mum’s Alzheimer’s at Christmas. She was really cold, there was no food in the house, she’d have the Christmas tree up in November so it was very unusual.’
As her father realised what was happening, she discussed his devastation: ‘Dad was beside himself and little did we know he had it too. Bizarre presents, my brother had an orange ladies jumper.’
When his father was diagnosed six years later, it was after he was arrested by the police for driving ‘erratically’.
She described the impact on the family: ‘You can’t do enough, I love my brother but resentment comes in, families are blown apart by it… It can happen to anyone – my mum was only in her 50s.’
Ms Phillips has also previously talked about her fears that she, too, would develop Alzheimer’s.
She told The Mirror: ‘I need to sort out an action plan that can be used if I ‘disappear’… Of course I fear inheriting the disease with my family history, and I sometimes wake up in the night feeling anxious and worried about it.
‘My parents were relatively young when they got it; my mum was in her early 50s, although at the time, we just put it down to her being eccentric.’
Fiona previously spoke of her parents decline, saying: ‘It was heartbreaking. The end is slow and undignified.’
And in 2019, she wrote a candid column in the same newspaper in which she discussed her feelings of guilt and sadness.
She wrote: ‘I feel I never did enough for my mum and dad. I couldn’t.’
She added: ‘You can never do enough for a loved one with dementia. It’s a cruel disease with no cure, and days have no end.
‘I will never feel I did enough. That’s why I often tear up when people tell me how lucky my parents were to have me. The guilt never goes away.’
Ms Phillips began her journalistic career working as a reporter for local radio stations such as Radio Mercury un Sussex and County Sound in Surrey.
Her big break came when she moved to GMTV as an entertainment correspondent in 1993, before being promoted to be their LA correspondent in December the same year.
She then fronted the breakfast show from 1997 to 2008, being the main anchor every Monday to Wednesday.
Ms Phillips announced in 2008 she would be leaving the show for family reasons, presenting her last show in December.
This followed the death of her mother, and came after her father had also been diagnosed with the disease.
After her father’s death, the journalist revealed she was left ‘angry’ at his care, and even referred to it as ‘manslaughter’.
His rapid deterioration led her to question whether the drugs cost him years of his life.
She said: ‘I am so angry at the way my lovely, lovely dad was treated at the end. In his final weeks he was so coshed by drugs that his poor body couldn’t cope.
‘They robbed him of his laughter, then his smile, which was all that he had got left, and I am absolutely furious about that. Then they robbed him of his life.
‘Maybe I’m being selfish because he wouldn’t have wanted to continue to be dependent on others.
‘But that wasn’t a decision to be made by the medical system on his behalf … Without those drugs he could still have been healthy and happy, even with dementia.’
Fiona Phillips took part in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2005
Ms Phillips hopes that the trial she is partaking in will help those who are diagnosed in the years to come
Treatment for dementia and Alzheimer’s has improved in recent years, and Ms Phillips hopes that the trial she is partaking in will help those who are diagnosed in the years to come.
Despite saying goodbye to her regular slot on GMTV in 2008, Ms Phillips has frequently appeared on the network since, most famously when guest presenting Lorraine.
She has also appeared on Loose Women and reports for the BBC’s Watchdog.
She has been writing a regular column for the Daily Mirror for 20 years, and has previously discussed her family’s history of the disease in the paper.
Her fans also know her for appearing on Strictly Come Dancing in 2005.
On hearing the news of Ms Phillips’ diagnosis, Kate Lee, Chief Executive at Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Our thoughts are with our Ambassador Fiona Phillips and her family following the announcement that she’s living with dementia.
‘Fiona has frequently spoken out about her parents’ experiences of dementia, and her support of Alzheimer’s Society has been hugely impactful and greatly appreciated.
‘Sharing such personal news publicly raises much-needed awareness of dementia and we are extremely grateful to Fiona.
‘We are here to offer our support to Fiona and her family and to everyone affected by dementia, through our website alzheimers.org.uk and dementia support line on 0333 150 3456.’