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Racing for memories

Racing for memories

Recently, my family has joined the unfortunate ranks of those who have been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. My mom started showing early signs of the disease a few years ago, and it has slowly and stubbornly progressed ever since. The toll that Alzheimer’s is taking on my mom is obvious and devastating. Less obvious, but just as significant, is the impact it is having on my dad. As my mom’s primary caregiver, it’s been said that my dad must ride the world’s tallest, fastest and scariest emotional roller coaster each and every day. Sadly, in my observation, this is absolutely true.

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Hope in the face of Alzheimer’s

Hope in the face of Alzheimer’s

One might think that having a disease with no cure wouldn’t leave a person with much hope to draw on. The truth is, if you’d asked me how I felt about the future after I was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, my answer would have been far from ‘hopeful.’ Then, one day, that changed.

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Run like the wind for Alzheimer’s

Run like the wind for Alzheimer’s

“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.

imageWriter.aspxChris 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.