A FORMER Keighley rugby league coach played an inspirational role in helping a soap actor portray a dementia sufferer.

Emmerdale star John Middleton and the ITV programme's producers have won high praise for their depiction of the condition.

The actor, who played vicar Ashley Thomas, was at the centre of a moving dementia storyline.

And he has revealed the help given by Philip Carmichael, who also played rugby for Bradford Northern. He was diagnosed with dementia aged 54.

“Philip became the person I had in my mind,” said John.

He met Philip through Pathways Breaks, a Bradford-based organisation helping younger people with dementia.

John said “every aspect” of Emmerdale’s dementia storyline had come from meeting real people, largely through Pathways. The programme-makers also worked with the Alzheimer’s Society and MHA Care Homes.

“When we met people with dementia we thought of the weight and relevance of the story to them and the responsibility of telling it accurately,” said John.

“My hope is that Emmerdale has at least been able to embed the issue of dementia into the public’s consciousness. We’re all guilty of looking the other way, but we ignore this at our cost. It could well happen to every one of us.”

John visited Pathways Breaks before the dementia storyline began.

“He listened to people’s stories. He was very keen to get it right,” says volunteer support worker Clare Mason.

“We took some people for a tour of the Emmerdale studio and talked to writers, producers and actors. I was shown scripts from the start and had an input – they took my suggestions on board and made changes to scenes. They didn’t just pay lip-service.

“The thing we really wanted was for Ashley’s story to be given time to be tackled properly – we’re pleased it developed over two years.

"There’s a myth that people have dementia then quickly pass away, but I know people who’ve lived with it for 15 years.

"Often there are signs a couple of years before diagnosis, and it’s family members who first realise something is wrong, due to changes in behaviour.”

When John met Philip, he was struck by the funny, warm moments that arise from dementia. “Philip loves laughing, joking and bursting into song. He was in amateur dramatics and loves to sing,” says Clare.

“John incorporated that into his performance. Humour is often how people cope with dementia. And music is such a powerful trigger of memories. As Philip’s wife says, life doesn’t end after a diagnosis, but it is different.”

Clare says Emmerdale has been particularly effective in raising awareness of dementia in a younger person, and the impact on family and friends.

Run by volunteers, Pathways Breaks organises holidays, social events and a support group and currently helps 30 people with dementia and their families.

For more about Pathways Breaks, e-mail info@pathwaysbreaks.co.uk or go to Facebook at pathwaysbreaks.