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Jack McKillop

SUNDAY MAIL - Glasgow, Scotland

James McKillop knows any day now, he could become a stranger in his own world.

To combat dementia, he captured his favourite scenes on camera before his mind shuts them out forever.

This poignant collection of photographs will be a reminder of happier, carefree times in the life of the 63 year old former civil servant. His simple idea is so effective, it could help thousands more reclaim memories from the frightening and isolating illness that afflicts at least 61,000 Scots.

James, from Glasgow, said: "I was diagnosed with dementia four years ago. "But I'd spent many years before that simply not knowing what was happening to me.

"It felt as if I'd spent years wandering in a kind of wilderness. In the end, I simply stayed home, deeply depressed and unable to function."

Although devastated to be told he had dementia, James was determined to do everything he could to keep his most precious memories alive. Capturing his favourite scenes in a photographic book, "Opening Shutters-Opening Minds", may now prove an inspirational blueprint for others.

James said: "I'd taken family snaps of my kids growing up, but hadn't picked up a camera in years.

"I'd forgotten how to do it because of my illness. But with some help, I was able to retrain. There were some technical failures, but the whole process was really theraputic, and I think the pictures may give people a new perspective on dementia."

The idea for the book came from Stirling University Dementia Research Fellow John Killick, who said : "We've been looking at various ways to enpower those with the illness, and this simple idea works.

"When we see what James has achieved, it shows people with dementia shouldn't be written off. They have talents and abilities that only need to be nurtured and encouraged."

Brenda Vincent from mental health support group Turning Point Scotland helped James prepare his book.She said: "Although there are 61,000 Scots diagnosed with dementia, the real figure is probably double that.

"People are so afraid of this illness because it's seen in such a negative light. The reality can be very different with the right support and stimulation. We've been told people with dementia can't learn. But we've had people in our project who've gone to college and gained qualifications, or returned to work after years of sitting at home. We see the person and their potential, not the illness, and we'd like to see projects like ours springing up across Scotland.

"People diagnosed with cancer don't give up their lives. They fight to keep hold of them. It should be the same for dementia. Too many are written off when they could be playing vital roles in their own communities, and still enjoying busy, productive lives."

James McKilliop said: "I hope I've opened eyes and shown that a person with dementia can relearn forgotten skills, as well as learn new ones.

"I want people to understand that dementia isn't an end, it's a new beginning where you do things differently.

While some things change forever, there's a lot you can still do. Instead of being pitied or treated in a condescending manner, I want to be treated the same as before, with just a little allowance being made in the areas I have problems."

As well as his book of photographs, James has developed a special credit-card sized Helpcard which allows users to indicate particular difficulties such as forgetfulness, managing money or getting lost to shop assistants or bus drivers.

James said: "It encourages us to maintain our independence, or it can act as a backup in a situation if we're misunderstood, or things start to go wrong."

Scots comic Rikki Fulton and soccer legend Ally MacLeod are among stars battling the disease, along with ex-US president Ronald Reagan. Actor Charlton Heston recently resigned as president of America's National Rifle Association because of Alzheimer's.