PENSIONER Dennis Boland has got used to the jokes over the years about taking more water with his alcohol.

The 69-year-old was diagnosed 30 years ago with Ataxia - a neurological condition which attacks the brain causing problems balance and slurring his speech.

He says the medical condition, which is often mistaken for drunkenness, is still not well understood by GPs or the public.

But Mr Boland, along with fellow members of a self-help group he attends, hopes to change that by raising more awareness.

The former plastics engineer was diagnosed after going to see his doctor with a bad back.

"I'd been standing unusually with my legs further apart than normal because I thought I had a bad back but it turned out to be I was standing oddly because I had Ataxia, making me lose my balance. I was just trying to keep myself up," he said.

Mr Boland, of Jowett Court, Idle, had many tests at hospital until a neurologist at Bradford Royal Infirmary confirmed he had the condition which can not be cured.

Ataxia conditions, which can start at any age, usually get worse overtime.

Loss of balance is just the start of the problems said Mr Boland, who had to give up work at 50 because the Ataxia put him at risk when working round machinery.

It can bring on heart disease, diabetes and other debilitating symptoms and sight and hearing can become impaired.

"Everyone who has Ataxia is different. Mine had gone into remission but it's got worse over the last couple of years again. It's progressed. I can't walk at all now without an aid," he said.

"I've got used to people's reaction. People would say they wished they were like me being able to afford to get so drunk early in the day or would say, 'you should take more water with it'. It was more amusing at first but it got annoying."

Researchers looking at DNA sequencing and stem cells eventually hope to find an effective treatment, supported by national charity Ataxia UK.

Mr Boland said being a member of the Bradford Ataxia Support Group helped remind him he was not by himself.

"It's a rare condition and there isn't much support out there or understanding which is why our group was set up 25 years ago and we now have people coming from all over like Wakefield, Queensbury and Halifax to meet up, share experiences, help each other and inform others."

The self-help group meets once a month at Springdale Community Centre in Thorpe Edge. Forthcoming meetings are July 11, August 15, September 26, November 7 and December 12, from noon until 4pm.