She’s a showbiz legend – the glamorous former Strictly Come Dancing judge who first rose to fame as the director and choreographer of risqué dance troupe Hot Gossip in the 1970s.

But not so many people know that Arlene Phillips, now 77, went through the emotional pain of seeing her father battle Alzheimer’s for more than a decade, before he died in 2000.

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behaviour. There are currently around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, and according to figures by The Alzheimer’s Association, this is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

Having experienced the devastation of the condition first-hand, Phillips has been raising awareness about the disease over the past few years, to help those living with dementia and their carers.

The celebrity choreographer is now encouraging people to contact their energy supplier to request a smart meter installation, as changes in daily energy usage could give vital clues as to whether a loved one is suffering from dementia. We caught up with Phillips to find out more.

What helped you to get through the tough times while caring for your dad?

“When I was caring for my father, I was working full time. I also had two daughters, so my life was very full. I wanted to remain physically strong. I was emotionally unsteady, because living with someone who has dementia is very difficult, and it can be dangerous at times too.

“My father would leave the hob on all night, for instance. I found it very hard when I was constantly running over to his house to sort out a problem. I was emotionally a bit of a wreck, but I stayed physically strong in my own wellbeing and I think that really helped.”

Glasgow Times:

What was the hardest part of looking after your dad?

“Mentally, it’s very hard, but the awful part about it is that when he had dementia, he had a lot of fear. He would worry that the police were coming for him, or that someone had been into his flat to steal money – which they couldn’t have done, because he couldn’t open the door.

“I would always be trying to make him live in my reality, by saying, ‘No Daddy, that isn’t real, nobody has been in the house.’ Then he would always get very agitated.

“Instead, I could have been delayed it by saying, ‘let’s have a cup of tea’ or ‘let’s talk about it later’. I’ve learnt a lot now, but when I look back it was a really traumatic time.”

How can smart meters help people with dementia?

“One of the strong patterns of behaviour with my dad was forgetting to turn off any switch. It was just one of those common things he couldn’t remember.

“Smart meter data can transform the way that people with dementia live, and can allow them to live independently for longer. With a smart meter you can get information about whether someone is leaving lights on or overusing the energy supply.

“As a carer, you can be much more aware and you can see when those patterns of behaviour are forming. The earlier that we discover these patterns, the earlier we can recognise dementia – and early recognition is so important.”

Can it be quite difficult to miss the signs of dementia at the beginning?

“My father started by getting lost. He’d quite often turn up at my house and he had no idea he’d walked there. He would stand there looking bewildered. If I had my chance again, I would definitely have got a smart meter to help me as a carer. ”

Glasgow Times:

How can carers who are looking after people with dementia support their own mental wellbeing this Christmas?

“The most important thing anyone can do is eat well and live a healthy lifestyle. I always tell people, ‘Don’t ignore fruit, veg and lentils’.

“A healthy diet is number one, but the next thing to consider is exercise. I don’t think there’s any disease that exercise doesn’t improve. Raising the heartbeat and filling your life with energy is so important.

“Even if it’s walking to the 10,000 step goal. It doesn’t matter what it is. Those things at just absolutely vital.

“I think lockdown has given people different eating patterns. What we’re missing now is physical contact, like hugs, so you often replace it with something else, like a bit of chocolate here or there.

“I think it’s in everyone’s gift to look after themselves, so they can look after others. Christmas can be very lonely, so we need to look out and think of ways we can help people, because it’s a time of togetherness.”

Smart meter data could, with consumer consent, transform the way we care for the most vulnerable in our society. Arlene Phillips is encouraging people to contact their energy supplier to request a smart meter installation.