Finsbury parkrunner Dr Mohit Verma, on the right, has a passion to improve the lives of those living with dementia and their families. Through his work as a Consultant Psychiatrist he’s seen firsthand how exercise and opportunities to socialise can transform the quality of life of those living with this disease.
This is why he’s taken up the challenge of becoming one of parkrun’s Champions for Dementia along with Bethan Wyn Roberts and Andy Morris.
To coincide with Dementia Awareness Week*, Dr Verma tells us how parkrun can help those living with dementia and how he and his fellow Champions would like to build a community amongst parkrunners affected by dementia.
Over the past few years you will probably have read a lot about the growing worries about dementia. I’m sure you will know dementia is a growing public health crisis. On a personal level it can be really diverse in the challenges it brings. Our goal is to try and use the fantastic parkrun communities we have, to see how we can help support people with dementia and their carers.
Writing this, there are two things I wanted to get across. Firstly, to make you aware of the range of difficulties around dementia, and secondly letting you know (and hopefully encouraging you to be involved!) in supporting our work to improve accessibility of events for those with dementia and their carers.
Why do we want to do this?
Personally, I have trained for many years trying to understand brain disorders and their impact. Dementia is a widely variable illness which can have a host of different faces. It is a condition which affects our thinking, language and memory amongst other aspects.
As a dementia specialist, I see firsthand the effect it has both on individuals and those caring for them. The features can be confusing. Sometimes it is the simplest questions which haven’t yet been answered. It can also be the lack of these answers which prevent people from getting the right help at the right time. A big motivator for me is to improve quality of life. I think part of this includes helping communities understand the wider challenges in supporting the affected and their loved ones.
So what can parkrun do to help?
I’ve learned that running means different things to different people. I’m sure you would agree about the immense influence parkrun has had on you (and perhaps your friends and family). For me it was both mental and physical. I started running a few years ago, in the midst of my own recovery from illness. parkrun provided a safe, community space which I used to target where I wanted to get to. It motivated me to improve my fitness and gave me space to think.
Exercise provides clear health benefits. There is evidence it can help in reducing the chance of developing many illnesses – including some which contribute to dementia. However, the good comes not only from pushing ourselves physically(!), but also from an effect on our mental and social abilities. Research suggests there are benefits from being with and around others. Social relationships also appear important in respect to memory decline. Bringing people together might also help understand and plan for some of the health challenges we all face. I think parkrun probably helps on many levels, and can do so for those with and without memory difficulties; especially by turning up on a cold, rainy Saturday morning!
One of the biggest impacts on me was feeling the sense of community when I attended my first ever parkrun. Myself and the other parkrun Champions for Dementia want to make parkrun events safer and more open for those with dementia and their carers. We hope to enable those affected to come and join in either for the run, or even just as a community opportunity to engage in a voluntary role. We have also thought about giving carers a space for their own time and reflection.
Part of our job is to find out what difficulties many of you face if you or a loved one has dementia. We are keen to hear about what elements you feel we could support within the dementia area with regards to parkrun?
If you think you could help, or simply just want to talk about your experience, or simply want to be more connected with other parkrunners affected by dementia please think of joining our parkrun Facebook group for those affected by dementia. We’ll be able to keep you in touch with our work through that group and our discussions will help unite us in improving the lives of so many affected in our communities.
*Dementia Awareness Week runs from 14-20 May 2017
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