This year, around 225,000 people will be diagnosed with dementia - that's one every three minutes, not far off the time it takes the average cyclist to cover a mile.
We're organising two rides this November to help raise awareness and funds for vital research into Alzheimer's, the most common cause of dementia.
One in six people over the age of 80 is living with the disease, so the chances are most of us know someone affected by symptoms ranging from memory loss to confusion and language problems.
The degenerative disease is not just hard on those living it - but carers, too.
“It's exhausting because there's no end in view, there's no 'timeline'. Initially I was told life expectancy from diagnosis was eight years, and I thought 'I can cope with that' - but 16 years later, I’m still coping,” says Carol Franklin-Adams, a 75-year-old whose husband Patrick was diagnosed when the couple were both 59-years-old.
The Franklin-Adams’ - Patrick an insurance broker and Carol owner of a B&B in a grade II listed home in Surrey - where proactive from day one of diagnosis, “we weren’t very good at sitting back and doing nothing,” the mother of four notes.
"We wanted to raise funds and awareness. People didn't know as much then as they did now. Patrick had three aunts who had dementia, so he knew something was wrong when he became confused in meetings and kept forgetting where he was - but not everyone was as knowledgable."
Together, they’ve raised over £245,000 for Alzheimer’s Research UK, a charity which funds research into Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Number crunchers estimate that, with families shouldering around two thirds of dementia care, the disease costs the UK economy £30,000 a year for every person living with dementia – yet just £90 is spent annually on research.
Carol now has carers to help her on most days, and as well as setting up a support group in her home town of Ewhurt, Surrey, she’s also working to set up a day care centre in Cranleigh “to help stop people having to go into care homes so early.”
Amongst all of this, and school pickups for her grandchildren which she considered unmissable, Carol is still finding time to embark on cycling challenges which would make many half her age wince.
In 2004, the grandmother cycled from her home in Surrey to John O’Groats, going back the other way in 2014 – to ride to Lands End. Most recently, she completed the 170-mile 'Way of the Roses' ride across the breadth of the country at the age of 75, raising almost £5,000.
“The ride took four days, and day three was the hardest,” reminisces Carol. “There was one hill where I just had to tell myself ‘for goodness sake – Carol – just walk up it!’”
“There was one moment when I didn’t think I could do it, but then I reminded myself that I had to, because people had given me money to do so. As soon as you get that first £1 in, the reality kicks in and you realise you have to do it,” she says.
Preparation was minimal, and Carol completed her ride on a Trek hybrid bike, upgrading to clipless pedals which she says made all the difference when compared with her Lands End ride at the age of 70.
“I probably went out about ten times ahead of the challenge – I can only get out when Patrick is being looked after, and care is expensive. But adding the pedals and cleats helped a lot – I found that all of a sudden I could cycle up hills that I could not ride up before.”
Whilst Carol expects her next big ride might be “just” 100 miles, she isn’t about to stop any time soon.
“I absolutely love Norfolk. I will plan a ride there when I'm 80. I won't keep upping the distance! It'll probably be just 100 miles, as long as I’m fit and well. I am lucky to be fit and well – for that I’m very grateful” she adds.
The role of exercise in developing dementia
Keeping fit and healthy can reduce your chances of developing dementia, according to Edward Pinches of Alzheimer’s Research UK.
"The best evidence suggests that physical evidence does indeed help prevent Alzheimer’s, alongside other things - it has to be a part of a wider healthy lifestyle. What's good for your heart is also good for your brain," says Pinches.
Whilst genetics do play a part, they're far from the whole story.
"Alzheimer’s Disease is the biggest cause of dementia, and less than one per cent of all Alzheimer’s cases are hereditary and genetic," Pinches explains.
"Dementia does have some genetic background. Age and genetics accounts for around 65 per cent of your risk whilst one third will be modifiable risk factors, lifestyle factors."
"One cause of dementia is Vascular Dementia - problems with the brain's blood supply. Twenty per cent of your blood goes to your brain so if you're keeping the heart healthy, it's pumping more blood round," he commented.
"There is less good evidence to suggest that once you have developed dementia, exercise will help slow down the progression," he added - though staying active can help keep older people's bodies more robust and their social circle flourishing.
Want to join in and raise funds?
Not everyone can be a superhero grandma, but we can don our lycra and ride to raise more funds to fuel the work carried out my Alzheimer's Research UK.
Cycling Weekly’s sister company, UK Cycling Events (UKCE), holds sportives year long and countrywide – two of which are specifically designed to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s ‘Cycling Down Dementia’ fundraising challenge.
Riders are invited to cycle 300 or 1000 miles, to raise £150 to power life-changing research. UKCE's Norfolk and South East rides are deigned to offer a perfect platform to tot up some of those miles.
So, what are you waiting for? Saddle up and help Cycle Down Dementia.
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