AgendaThe Dementia Champion

The Dementia Champion

By Julia Hunt

Coffee with … Jason Stolte, Investment Manager, Quilter Cheviot

If losing someone you love is one of the hardest things in life; losing someone you love every day, for several years, changes the whole way you see life.

For Jason Stolte, the death of his father last year, nearly seven years after he was diagnosed with dementia, marked a turning point.

At 50, Jason had worked in Finance in Jersey nearly half his life. He had a wife and two teenage sons, a job he loved, and plenty of friends. It wasn’t a question of stepping back, but of evaluating his relationship with his family, stepping up his commitment to help people affected by dementia, and embracing even more of what life has to offer.

“We had been losing my dad for years.” Jason said. “Dementia turned him from an outgoing gentleman, who was always positive and had a larger-than-life personality, to an almost unresponsive shell of himself.

“Dementia creates a constant sense of loss. As the person you love loses their memories, their ability to communicate, and all their other mental and physical capabilities, even forgetting who you are, you continuously lose more of that person. It’s gradual but it’s still an awful shock.”

The loss of his father happened around the same time Jason’s employer, Quilter Cheviot became a dementia friendly and aware business.  As well as contributing £150,000 over a three-year period to a dementia friendly charity in the UK, Quilter Cheviot has rolled out a company-wide initiative training staff to recognise early signs of dementia in clients. The firm has appointed Dementia Champions in each of its 12 offices around the British Isles, with Jason heading the initiative in Jersey.

The Dementia Champions underwent training in the UK by the Alzheimer’s Society to understand dementia at a deep level, and to recognise its signs, symptoms and how to provide care in various circumstances. In turn, the Dementia Champions trained all the other Quilter Cheviot staff.

Jersey Alzheimer’s Association estimates there are over 1,400 people in the Island living with dementia, many who haven’t been diagnosed, and they expect the figure to double over the next 25 years.

Figures from the Alzheimer’s Society indicate more than 850,000 people in the UK have dementia and it has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in England and Wales. With the number of people with dementia in the UK expected to rise to over one million by 2025 and over two million by 2051, a third of people could be impacted by dementia, either directly or through a close relative.

As an Investment Manager, Jason meets clients from all over the world, looking after high net worth individuals, pensions and trusts.

He said: “One in 14 people over the age of 65 is being diagnosed with dementia, a figure that is expected to rise. As the average age of a Quilter Cheviot client is 64, this could affect a large number of our clients, so it’s clearly a very relevant issue. By training staff to recognise the signs of dementia in clients at an early stage we can identify whether clients are in the position to be able to take decisions about investment themselves, or whether they need to make a Legal Power of Attorney (LPA), and alert family or trustees when appropriate.

“It’s clearly a very sensitive matter, especially as someone who is starting to have dementia will often reject the suggestion either because of how the disease is affecting their brain, or because they really don’t want to face up to the possibility they are suffering from dementia.”

Jason’s personal experiences of dementia – watching his father’s symptoms worsen until the point where he could no longer be cared for by Jason’s mother at home – mean he is acutely aware how families may feel if they are told their loved one may have the condition.

“Dementia is a degenerative disease with currently no cure.” Jason said. “Symptoms can plateau for a while but eventually accelerate for the worse. My father was German and as the disease progressed, he lost the ability to speak English, and even to walk. The long-term memory is the last to be lost. However, there were moments of surprise and clarity even in the late stages.  My Dad had recognised a stranger that looked like his late mother. Barely having spoken a word for some time, he remarked in clear English that the stranger looked like his late mother.

“When he was in the care home, he just sat placidly in his chair most of the day. Some people with dementia can be very agitated, and sometimes violent, but my dad exuded a lovely calm and was the nurses’ favourite in the home. He just had a faraway expression most of the time.”

As a top-level chef Jason’s father had travelled the world, working at exclusive resorts in Switzerland and Jamaica, where he even cooked for royalty. Since his father’s death Jason has been even more determined to make long-lasting memories with his own children – going surfing or mountain biking every weekend with his sons and taking more photos than he would ever have dreamed of when they were young children.

“It’s so easy to take photos on your phone. When my kids were young you had to go to the effort of getting a camera out every time, and sometimes by the time you’d got it all set up, the moment was over. Seeing my dad lose his memories, has made me want to capture as much as I can with my boys.

“The doctors say my dad’s condition is not hereditary. There’s no reason why he had it -it was just bad luck. But in a way, that makes me even more determined to make the most of what I have now, and to show my sons, and the people I love how much they mean to me, and not take anything for granted.

“I had a good relationship with my father, but I don’t think I really appreciated how much I loved him until after he had gone. If I could go back, I would have told him how much he meant to me, and how much I loved him.”

Life goes on after loss. Jason has been busier than ever at work, training colleagues in dementia awareness and regularly travelling on business to see clients in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Mauritius.

“Travelling in Africa to places like Johannesburg where there are regular car jackings and shootings, or to Nigeria, where there’s a risk of being kidnapped helps put it all into perspective. A friend’s wife died at the age of 40 from falling down the stairs. My mother-in-law also passed away last year. We just don’t know what is going to happen to us but seeing what happened to my father has taught me to be more tolerant and less judgemental especially to those more vulnerable.

It’s about living for the day, and not taking anyone, or any aspect of life for granted. As I tell my boys, chase your dreams.”

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