The challenge comes as a YouGov survey commissioned by Alzheimer’s Research UK shows dementia has drawn level with cancer (both 31%) for the first time as the health condition feared most by adults in the UK*.
The UK’s leading dementia research charity is urging people to tackle this fear by taking on a physical challenge of their own this summer, called Running Down Dementia. The virtual summertime challenge, launched in partnership with parkrun, asks participants to run 100km while raising £100 for vital dementia research.
Celebrity entertainer Russell Grant is a passionate supporter of dementia research as he experienced the condition first-hand when his grandmother developed Alzheimer’s disease, which left him heartbroken.
Russell has spoken about his own fear of developing dementia. He said:
“Having cared for my Nanny Alice, I’ve seen what dementia can do and of course it makes me fearful of developing it. She got the thin end of the wedge with Alzheimer’s, as she went completely mute. All she could manage was incoherent noises. The hardest part was not knowing what she was thinking.
“The fear for me is, who is going to be around to look after me if I get it? Not everybody is going to be as caring as my mum and I were.”
As part of his fightback against dementia, Russell has pledged to take on Running Down Dementia himself, but decided to make it his own challenge by walking 100 miles.
“I’m really looking forward to taking part in Running Down Dementia. I’ll be getting over an arthroscopy on my left knee, so I’m going to be walking down dementia! I love walking, and try to clock up 10,000 steps a day, but I know this will be a challenge, as it’s for such an important cause and I know I have to do it – I don’t want to let anyone down.”
Mum, model and passionate runner Nell McAndrew, who has a marathon PB time of 2hrs 54mins, has also signed up to take on the challenge.
Nell, who lost two grandparents to dementia, said:
“My grandad, Sam, had Alzheimer’s disease and died in 2010. It was a huge, devastating blow to my whole family. My grandad and I were very close and shared the same birthday. He was diagnosed just a year after my grandmother Eileen died in 1998 with vascular dementia. It was very hard for my mum to see both her parents fading away from this cruel condition one after the other. That’s why I want to do all I can to help and why I’m backing Running Down Dementia.
“Running Down Dementia is a fantastic way to raise money for dementia research. Simply register, set up a fundraising page and get running! The great thing about it is that you can do it at your own pace, as and when it suits you. I’d encourage everyone, whatever your ability, to pull on your trainers and get involved!”
BAFTA award-winning actress Vicky McClure, best known for playing Lol in This is England and most recently DS Kate Fleming in BBC One’s hit drama Line of Duty, is also backing Running Down Dementia.
Vicky, who lost her grandmother, Iris Hedley, to dementia in 2015, said:
“Watching someone you love slowly deteriorating from a disease you have no control over is heartbreaking. The hardest part was when my grandmother stopped recognising me. She used to scream a lot, through frustration, as she knew what she wanted to say, but the words just wouldn’t come out.
“Having seen the effects of dementia at close quarters, I can honestly say it’s the scariest thing that could happen to anyone. Dementia is a horrible condition that robs people of their identity. She was the most stylish, proud, confident woman but dementia stripped that away. That’s why I support Alzheimer’s Research UK – a charity that funds the best research to find a cure sooner. I’m confident that day will come.
“My work schedule means that, sadly, I won’t be able to take part in Running Down Dementia this year, but I’d encourage anyone who can to sign-up. Not only will it keep you fit, you’ll be giving hope to the 850,000 people across the UK living with dementia today. By coming together to take on this challenge, you can make a difference.”
The challenge reflects both the charity’s and parkrun’s commitment to spreading the word about the benefits of exercise and a healthy lifestyle to help combat dementia, as well as fighting the fear and stigma that still surrounds the condition.
Emma Parkin’s daughters Amelia, 11, and Tessa, eight, took on the challenge last year for their grandma after watching her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. They shared the 100km challenge, running with their mum and dad at local parkruns, on holiday in Iceland and close to their home near Stratford upon Avon, raising £1,000 in her honour.
“It’s hard for the girls to see a grandma who they used to love spending time with deteriorate, and is now living in a home and not even able to recognise them. It just feels like she is being taken from us.
“With Running Down Dementia it felt like we could all pull together and do something useful. What was lovely was that people we didn’t expect to sponsor us really got involved and could see the benefit of what we were doing.”
Last year Running Down Dementia raised £220,000 with almost 4,000 runners hitting the streets, their local parks and clocking up their kilometres at parkruns every week.
Timothy Parry, Director at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“It is sadly not surprising that dementia has been revealed as the most feared condition, alongside cancer, as it impacts so many people – 1 in 3 children born this year will develop a form of dementia during their lifetime.
“However, we are powering the fightback against dementia with world-class research but we can only do this with the backing of our supporters and so we are encouraging them to take on a personal challenge and sign up to Running Down Dementia.”
Supporters can sign up now at runningdowndementia.org, pledge to raise £100, connect their tracking app such as Strava or MapMyFitness and get running. Runners will be able to compare their distances with others interactively through the website for extra motivation and keep track of leaderboards. Runners can also join forces and compete in teams, and parkrun groups can compete for the top spot.