One in three people know someone suffering from Alzheimer's. For Burnaby resident Lori Spence, she has three family members with the disease.
"Alzheimer's first affected my family when my uncle got it, and that was maybe over 10 years ago," Spence said. "He lived the last 10 years of his life with Alzheimer's, and for the last 10 years he wasn't able to communicate with anyone. There was no quality of life. I think when you get this disease you lose your identity. You lose yourself."
That's why Spence gets on her bike every day to train for the 122-kilometre trek she'll be cycling through on Sept. 7 at the Gran Fondo ride from Vancouver to Whistler, raising funds for the Alzheimer's Society of B.C. "I work in health care, and I see many patients in the hospital that are affected by dementia," she said. "I see people who have had very rich, functioning lives lose the ability to even read anymore, communicate. Some of the things we need to make our life enriched and full with social connections, and people lose all that."
Spence is a pharmacist and describes herself as an "avid athlete." She's a mountain biker, a white-water kayaker, a recreational runner, skier and now, a city cyclist.
"I'm a big fan of exercise and sport," she added.
Spence is also a fan of using this opportunity to promote measures to prevent dementia and Alzheimer's by committing to a healthy lifestyle.
"I know some people think it's an old person's disease, but really this is a disease, ... (and there) are preventative strategies," she said.
Besides her uncle, Spence's motherand father-in-law have been struggling with dementia, as well. Her father-inlaw, who is 84 years old, has been developing dementia over the last 10 years.
"We saw it coming early," she added. "The ability, he couldn't do familiar tasks anymore. He had difficulty reasoning. You could see his logic becoming impaired. You actually see them losing themselves over time."
Spence said she's experienced and witnessed firsthand what the disease is capable of.
"I think it's very debilitating," she said. "It's a sad disease. I see also how it affected all the caregivers and supporters."
Although Spence leads a healthy lifestyle to prevent dementia, she notes there's a lack of such control when someone already has the disease.
"You feel helpless," she noted.
"And then you feel, I think you feel for them, their frustration. You see that they know something's wrong, but they can't do anything about it, and it just becomes more isolating between two people because you don't have any more meaningful communication.
"I know how devastating it can be."
Leading up to the event, Spence is trying to build up her stamina by riding up to SFU and other long-distance locations - sometimes joined by her husband.
"He's been great," she said. "He'll ride with me just to keep me company."
To donate to Spence's fundraising page, Alzheimer's: It's not like riding a bike, visit ow.ly/nJf2c. Funds raised go towards research for the cause and cure.
For more information about the society, visit www.alzheimerbc.org.
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