My father has suffered with Alzheimer's disease for about 10 years. Like most people, I thought Alzheimer's meant he would have trouble remembering things and eventually he'd forget who his family are; how wrong I was. While it involves those things, it is so much worse. Over time I came to realise the emotional distress it causes. Firstly to the sufferer, when for the umpteenth time they are told their mother died decades ago and they react with the emotional shock as if it's just happened - again and again they go through this. It's distressing for those forced to witness it. I also didn't realise how a sufferer is physically ravaged as this brain disease begins to rob them of most of their mobility and dignity.
In the latter stages, the family of a sufferer take solace in the hope that their parent/spouse is unaware of what's happening to them. However, each time they look into those empty, dead eyes of a person they once had a profound emotional connection with, it breaks their heart. Eventually, unless some other illness intervenes, Alzheimer's runs its full course and the sufferer loses the ability to swallow. Unable to move, seemingly unaware of what's happening and unable to take food or fluid, they pass away slowly over several days.
So it happened to my Dad at 19:04 on the 17th October 2019, bringing an end to a truly awful five-day vigil at his bedside. Thankfully his passing was peaceful. If there was any silver lining to such a terrible personal event, it is that it brought his/my family closer together than ever.
Alzheimer's is not just old age, it's not just a bad memory, it's a physical disease which slowly destroys the brain.
Just over a week later Christine and I ran the Snowdonia marathon to raise funds for both Alzheimer's Research UK and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Neither of us were well trained but we were determined to complete it in memory of our lost parents. Despite everything, I managed to somehow complete the course in a faster time than the previous year. In the last mile I allowed myself to think about Dad, who had some very memorable adventures in Snowdonia as a young lad. Summoning up such emotions and trying to finish a marathon is not good for your ability to breathe, so I corked the emotion and saved a few tears for a private moment at the end. That one was for you Dad.
Christine and I have run for 14 years as a way to honour Pauline Baker and now my Dad, raising money to help find a cure for these terrible diseases. It's also brilliant for your mental health when dealing with such distressing issues. I get such an amazing buzz from completing such difficult physical challenges. I'm also surrounded by the most incredibly positive people during a long distance race. Let's face it you have to be positive to even stand on the start line of a marathon. We now count several of these people as close friends, sharing the tough moments and the many, many highs associated with running. I'd encourage anyone to run as an antidote to the anguish life often throws at you.
Unfortunately, crossing the Snowdonia finish line does not end our running efforts as there are still no effective treatments, let alone cures, for Motor Neurone Disease or Alzheimer's. Now we must plan for the next big challenge and try to raise the research funding that might just find a cure.