INTERVIEW: Racing to Remember, Funding a Cure for Dementia

On the 24th of September, a small group of local Lancastrians set off on a 10-mile walk along Morecambe Bay in blue t-shirts and high spirits. The charity walk was in aid of dementia and was supported by the Alzheimer’s society.

Founded in 1990, the society’s slogan is ‘Improving care for today and finding a cure for tomorrow’, but they also fund an extensive research programme which aims to discover a cure for all forms of the disease. In the 2016/17 research programme, the organisation had spent 50 million pounds on research since 1990; volunteers had given 8590 hours into supporting the scheme; 9.2 million pounds was spent on biomedical and care research. Their Patient and Public Involvement Scheme (PPI) means anyone and everyone who wants to help can get involved and do something to make a difference.

The society holds charity runs, walks, swims and other events which people can sign up for, or they can set up their own event to help the cause.

This particular walk was led by Julie Anderton, who decided to gather her friends and family to get up and raise money. Julie got involved with the Alzheimer’s society through the care home she works at, where dementia and Alzheimer’s are incredibly common. She attends dementia workshops organised by Dianne Smith, the Dementia Matron of the north-west, who she knows personally: Dianne “has delivered training for our care staff, she is passionate about her work and a lot of the money raised goes to research.”

I got talked into going on this walk, and although 10-miles on a Sunday morning was a big effort, the reward I felt for doing it with family and friends was infinitely worth it. Between sponsors and bucket donations on the day we managed to raise a spectacular sum total of £900.

Julie was just one out of hundreds of people across the country who have joined or organised a memory walk in their local area. Even a small group of people like us can raise a sizeable profit and contribute to such a worthy objective.

After taking part in the walk, I wanted to find out what else is happening in my local area with regards to research for a cure; I then came across The Defying Dementia programme at the University of Lancaster. Defying Dementia is both the research on campus and the campaign to fund that research. The team of researchers (the professors, as well as PhD and post-doctorate students) carry out the investigation within the biomedicine department.

I got in touch with the organisation’s Annual Fund Officer, Dan Corkhill, to find out more. As the Annual Fund Officer, one of Dan’s main priorities is to take part in the running of the Defying Dementia scheme. This includes providing volunteers with materials to run fundraising events, liaising with professors at the university, organising lab tours, and helping out the Dementia Hub, a local service providing care and support for residents with dementia and their loved ones. He is also involved in ensuring that the fundraising for the campaign is ongoing and helps to provide support for this to continue to happen.

The campaign takes on a range of volunteers, including a large number of students from the University of Lancaster, as well as people from the local community who have found out about it through the news, Facebook or local events and want to help make a difference. The university’s Defying Dementia Students Society also plays a fundamental role in running events and raising funds.  Among the charity events supported by the campaign, their Race to Remember scheme has been particularly rewarding over the past couple of years, though volunteers have also taken part in The Great North Run, hosted coffee mornings, and held auctions with locally-donated prizes, to name a few.

At the moment, the goal of the company is to raise £160,000 to provide a safety test for the drug that the professors are currently investigating: “It’s a very promising drug, we’ve done tests on it to see how it would best be administered and it’s proved it would actually reach the brain where it would be effective.”. Whilst this is the initial goal, the future goal is to get the drug into clinical trials. Defying Dementia has already raised a pretty massive proportion of this simply through local people fundraising. MAC Clinical Research, a North West based clinical research organisation, has agreed to help develop this breakthrough treatment in human clinical trials. However, safety tests need to be carried out before any of this can happen, for which more money needs to be raised.

As something that has affected me personally, I am overwhelmed by all the dedication, time and money being invested into the help and prevention of this heartbreaking disease. No one can ever really prepare themselves for the cruel realities of Dementia, but every effort is absolutely invaluable in the fight to beat it.

Please take note that you can donate to The Alzheimers Society, or take a look at fundraising for them here.

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