Running around the world for dementia

When Saturday morning comes, I’ll be the chubby wannabe looking out of place with 1000 lean ultra-runners at the start of the craziest challenge of my life, the whimsically-named Highland Fling.

The motivation?   

In a word, dementia. This miserable degenerative disease interests me, both professionally and personally. 

As progress has been made with the treatment of cardiovascular disease and the population lives longer, dementia has become Britain’s more common cause of death. Today almost 15% of UK deaths are attributed to Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, exceeding heart disease since 2015. Dementia's rise is not an epidemic like you make think of a flu epidemic: dementia is not contagious but is a disease of the ageing process, so the more successful we have been in addressing premature killers, the greater the risk of dying from a disease of the ageing process.  

But dementia is personal for me too. When I was a teenager I watched my Granny’s decline through late-life Alzheimer’s. In her younger days, she had revelled in teaching chemistry to Dundonian teenagers and reciting Scottish poetry. But in her 70s, first her memory deteriorated, then she became frail and lost her balance. Her condition may have been accelerated by her passion for Teachers’ whisky and Embassy cigarettes (note the NHS advice on reducing the risk of dementia). For she was no gym bunny.    

Since his late 70s, my father has followed a similar path to his mum. You can read more of his story on my fund raising page. 

Whilst the cause of dementia remains a mystery, there is a substantial body of evidence that associates the risk of dementia to our lifestyles. That is, the way that we live our lives seems to make some of us more prone to suffering from dementia, but the connections in the process are not yet understood. Dementia has not attracted much research funding: there is neither an early diagnosis nor any form of effective treatment. Today’s expert advice is limited to prevention rather than cure. In short, don’t smoke, moderate drinking, eat healthily and exercise regularly. The advice looks very similar to those seeking to minimise the risk of diabetes. Two protections for the price of one! 

I don’t smoke, don’t drink that much, but do love eating. So to maintain any form of bodily equilibrium, I need to regularly burn calories. As I mentioned in my New Year message to Friends of Club Vita,  I was taking my trainers with me on my travels this year.

So, this is why, at dawn on Saturday, I will be lining up at the start of the “Highland Fling”. This jig takes place on the first 53 miles of the West Highland Way, along the Bonnie, Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, from Milngavie (north Glasgow) to Tyndrum (near Glencoe). The music will stop after 15 hours. To make it to be end, I’ll have taken 100,000 steps, climbed 2,300 vertical metres and burned through 10,000 calories. 

You can read more about some medical research at Edinburgh University into early detection of Alzheimer’s here, which both of my sisters have taken part in: any donations you make will help to pay for more research into dementia. These will help us really understand what’s going on, develop some early diagnoses and enable some early interventions. You can also contribute by joining an awareness campaign on Strava where every step you run, walk or jog will help the team race around the world. 

I’m really grateful to Allan Wallace for cajoling me to become a runner, to my sister Clara for supporting me and to Andrew Gaches for leading the way on the run (some way ahead!) and to The Hymans Roberston Foundation for matching the first £2,000 of donations. 

Lang may yer lums reek.

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