When I was growing up, I really looked up to my grandad, Charles Holgate. He was pretty awesome. My other grandparents had all passed away before I was born, so grandad, my mum’s dad, was it for me. He played a huge part in my childhood. I used to go and stay with him in half term and we always had so much fun. He’d let me get away with pretty much anything - eating syrup from the bowl, using him as a climbing frame and playing with his hair - all the stuff you love doing when you’re a kid. He was just so generous and fun.
But when grandad was diagnosed with dementia in 2001, everything changed.
Dementia robbed him of his independence, and it robbed me of my grandad.
He was always so independent. A Methodist minister, he travelled around the world with my grandmother and my mum and my uncle when they were both young, including to America. My grandmother sadly died just as he retired. Despite being heartbroken, he continued to be a source of support for his many friends and, of course, his family.
But after his dementia diagnosis, this all changed. Grandad came to live with us and his deterioration was quite rapid. It was heart-breaking. His diagnosis affected us as a family in different ways, but we came together to do the best we could. My mum would spend her days working as a nurse and her nights looking after grandad. Despite this, he would go missing and we’d spend hours searching for him. We once found him in our local nature reserve, walking around lost.
It then got to the point where he forgot who me and my sisters were. Being so young, I didn’t understand. I found it all really hard to deal with and just so unfair – all my friends had grandparents who recognised and played with them. My grandad was there in body, but not in mind. How had he gone from looking after us independently to not knowing who we were anymore?
That’s why I’ve joined the Dementia Revolution. Things need to change.
When grandad was diagnosed, there was still so much stigma surrounding dementia, and so much misunderstanding too. After he died in 2004, my school teacher told the class that he’d had a problem with his brain - that his brain had holes in. I didn’t even understand it myself. It wasn’t until years later when I saw a brain with dementia that I realised this wasn’t true. Dementia is caused by physical brain damage, but not the literal holes like I’d been told and imagined. It was a real comfort to me.
In the last five years I think there’s been a real change in attitudes. I’m not ashamed to say that my grandad had dementia, and others respond when I do. I've noticed that people are starting to talk more openly about it, but there’s still an awful long way to go.
Money raised from the Dementia Revolution will power dementia research and, I hope, bring a resolution to this awful disease. Many other people in my life have since been diagnosed with dementia and I want to find a cure. I don’t want the children of today to go through what grandad did, or families like mine to experience the pain of losing a loved one to dementia. The time to do something is now, and we’ll only make progress if we unite and stand against dementia together.
Having run a marathon before, I know it will be tough. Really, really tough. But not as tough as what grandad went through. Thinking of how proud grandad would be when I cross the finish line is all I need to get me through. That and knowing I’m powering research towards a cure.
I’m so proud to be a part of the Dementia Revolution, and I’m proud to be powering dementia research. Please stand with us.