Kate Lee

My guest this week is the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, Kate Lee. 

As well as being a CEO, Kate’s a wife, mother and daughter. Her 80-year-old mum’s vascular dementia is now so advanced that she lives in a nursing home and can’t talk; the only way Barbara can show her daughter that she loves her is to hold her hand. At the moment, of course, along with thousands of others, these two can’t hold hands, or meet, or hug or be together in any meaningful way, at all.  

A few weeks ago Barbara’s husband of almost 60 years was persuaded to go and visit her so that he could wave through a window. I saw a short video of this on Twitter and was very moved – the accompanying tweet said, “On a freezing morning, with our backs to the wind, we waved and shouted to mum through a window”. 

It was only on my second viewing of the shaky film that I realised that the daughter was in fact Kate Lee.  

So it’s quite obvious that the woman heading up the Alzheimer’s Society brings a very personal perspective to her new role.  Since taking up her post just a few days before the country went into its first Covid lockdown in March, she’s not been afraid to talk about what she and her family are going through in the national press, on TV and radio, and on social media, particularly Twitter where she has well over eight thousand followers. 

She knew that it was vital to come up with a contingency plan ASAP. Since April, when it was feared that the society might lose half its voluntary income, she’s had to furlough 400 staff, lost about 320 colleagues through redundancy and and taken out £12 million of expenditure. In doing so, the projected loss has been almost halved, from £40m to just over £22m and, importantly, the society hasn’t had to renegue on any current research funding. 

We talked a lot about her own family’s story, about the challenges of being both the daughter of someone living with dementia and the CEO of the UK’s biggest, most influential organisation in the dementia sector, about the realities of the condition (which aren’t always quite as they’re portrayed in the movies), about the tricky role of a close relative who lives some distance from his or her loved one and isn’t a primary carer but wants to help.  And of course we talked about how the Alzheimer’s Society has responded to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly the vexed issue of care home visiting, and her vision for the organisation’s post-Covid future.


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