“Thank you, Son,” is what I should have said. “What a great reason for some quality father/son time,” would have been better. Instead, I cried, “You did what?!”
That was Christmas morning 2014. My eldest son had signed us both up for the Ottawa Marathon. I was scheduled to run 26 miles, or 42 km, in less than 5 months.
I’m in my 50’s, I haven’t run regularly for over 20 years and I’m about 20 pounds heavier since my last marathon in 1995. I’d better take this seriously. Of course, training with my son motivates me; staying healthy to take on whatever other surprises he will send my way as he makes his way through life does as well; and using this day to contribute to dementia research is the crowning piece.
No cure or treatment exists. There are no ways to prevent the disease. Yet, I have learned I can do something about dementia:
- I initially set a fundraising goal of $5,000 to support dementia research, which I will match. As I’m writing this, my goal has been met… and surpassed! Thank you very much for your support. Now, let’s see how much higher we can go!
- With March being Brain Health Awareness Month, my colleagues have reminded me that physical activity is one of the four lifestyle choices (including social and mental stimulation, and healthy diet) that are good for you. And they’re good for your brain too, encouraging the development of new cells and new connections within the brain.
- And according to the Ontario Brain Institute, being physically active is associated with a 38% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
As I pursue these goals of staying healthy and raising money for dementia research, I have added to my training schedule a long-run every Saturday. Even mother-nature is urging me forward: this harsh winter of ours has offered balmy single-digit temperatures for most of those Saturdays with double digit lows for the balance of the week. I’ve actually started to enjoy running again, especially when I get in the zone, and realize I’ve just run another 10 k without thinking about running at all.
Not such a bad Christmas gift after all, right?
I would go to the ends of the earth for my family, so 42 kilometres seems quite reasonable. On that Christmas morning, I had no idea that his gift could mean so much for so many people.
Chris Dennis is the interim CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Ontario. Though he has many years of experience in the health-care sector, these past few months have offered him a unique window into this disease and he is committed to raising as much money for Alzheimer’s care and research as possible.
“Mom is on the ipod program and I can’t thank you enough. When she is agitated, I turn her iPod and she starts dancing and humming away.”
-Daughter of woman with dementia
Have you met someone who didn’t like music? I haven’t. A love of music is hardwired into the human psyche. People with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias are no different.
Two years ago at our offices in Toronto, I watched Dan Cohen, founder of Music and Memory in New York City, present at our office and share with us this simple yet powerful concept: the hidden power of music to bring back memories can improve mood, speech and cognition of people with dementia.
What’s the science behind this claim? Dementia affects established pathways of speech and other mental functions. Music therapy is effective because it connects to speech and other lost functions through different neural pathways that the disease has affected in the same way.
Today, iPod programs are springing up in different Alzheimer Societies across the province. It’s exciting to see this idea improve the lives of so many Ontarians with dementia.
Here’s a list of the local Alzheimer Societies who offer them:
- AS Toronto’s iPod® Project
- AS Grey-Bruce’s Music and Memories
- AS Durham Region’s iPod® Project
- AS Huron County’s iPods® for Memories
- AS Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington’s Music for Memories
- AS Niagara Region’s Music & Memory
- AS Simcoe County’s Music & Memory: iPod program
- AS Perth County’s iPod for Memories
- AS Sudbury-Manitoulin North Bay and District’s Music Heals program
If you want more information about an iPod project or other Alzheimer Society services in your area, contact your local Alzheimer Society.
On July 4 to July 27, 2014 we celebrated our 10th anniversary of our Society for the Arts in Dementia Care at the Ferry Building Gallery in West Vancouver, BC, with the kind support from the Alzheimer’s Society Research Program and the West Vancouver Community Foundation. For 3 weeks we exhibited highlights of the Society’s permanent art collection, which was established with the help of the Alzheimer Society of Canada several years ago.
The idea for the Society originated in British Columbia in 2003. It grew out of my own experience. I developed a program of Creative Expression Activities in my work with seniors with dementia. I was also supported by the Alzheimer Society of Canada through my graduate studies. Over the years, my main goal was to engage a wider audience of professionals and practitioners in exchanging ideas and strategies to be addressed in dementia care with a focus on the creative arts.