Hannah Clarke is a 28-year-old freelance blogger, copywriter and mum to Toby, who is a one year-old. She and her husband Phil live in Rutland. She took up running to fundraise after watching her grandmother, Pat, deteriorate after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007. Hannah will be running in the WR10K Nottingham race this weekend to raise money for Alzheimer’s Society. She tells Christina Macdonald her story.
Tell us a bit about your grandmother.
Before she was diagnosed she was your stereotypical grandmother – really gentle, really kind and would do anything for anybody.
When did you first notice that something wasn’t right?
We could see that something was up about two years before she was diagnosed. She would stumble over people’s names and was getting upset and anxious because she was aware that she couldn’t remember something. She lost her confidence.
How much did the dementia progress in the first few years?
It went from her forgetting names to progressing to a point where she would ask repetitive questions, and you’d be having the same conversation every few minutes.
What was your first reaction when she was diagnosed?
It was awful. I was travelling around South East Asia when she had the official diagnosis and I remember phoning her up and she had forgotten that I’d even left the country. That hit me a bit. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was still a shock.
How did your grandfather cope with looking after her?
My granddad just turned 80 at the beginning of this year so it’s been exhausting for him. My Nan has gone into a home and has been there for a year now. But granddad was caring for her for nine years. It was very difficult for him on a lot of levels.
What effect has your Nan’s illness had on you and your family?
It made us appreciate what we’ve got so much more. There have been times when mum and I have sat and cried but we know we’ve got to make the most of the life we’ve got in the way that Nan did and would still be doing if she could.
How would you describe coping with the illness?
It’s an immeasurable change to everybody. When someone has a disease and it takes hold and it’s incurable, they pass away and you have a grieving process. With Alzheimer’s, because it can go on for years or decades, it’s a continuous grieving process. Every time they get a bit worse you are grieving all over again for a loss of a certain part of them.
Tell us about your running background.
When we moved to Rutland two years ago and I was working in a school, I had the whole summer holidays off and I got quite bored. It started with me doing 1K up the road and then I learned to pace myself better. After our wedding I was getting up to 7K and then I fell pregnant. I didn’t run much during my pregnancy but signing up to the Women’s Running 10K gave me that push to get back into it properly again.
How did you find the training?
At first I wondered if had I done the right thing, as I was so exhausted from being a full-on mum, as well as running my freelance business. But I’ve really enjoyed it. The WR10K is my first 10K. My husband works in Nottingham and we used to live there, so I know the route and it’s lovely.
Did the fact that it was a women’s only race appeal to you?
I probably wouldn’t have minded either way but I do like the fact that it’s a women’s only race for my first event. I’d always said I’d raise money for Alzheimer’s Society and the race gave me that extra nudge.
What would you like to say to anyone who hasn’t been personally affected by dementia?
It’s really important to raise awareness of how difficult the disease is on not just the patient but also their loved ones. If you know someone who has it or someone caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, just reach out and offer support as it is one of the most devastating things anyone can go through.
Take part in one of the WR10K races to help raise funds for The Alzheimer’s Society. Visit www.wr10k.co.uk. For more information on dementia visit www.alzheimers.org.uk or call the free National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 11 22. Read Hannah’s blogs at www.buddingsmiles.co.uk