Sea of blue on Southsea’s Castle Field as charity walkers trek along coast to give dementia the boot

HUNDREDS of fundraising walkers decked out in blue t-shirts met in Southsea for the Alzheimer’s Society memory walk.

By Emily Jessica Turner
Sunday, 10th October 2021, 4:55 am
Action from the day. Picture: Sam Stephenson

The ribbon was cut by members of a Portsmouth family that was devastated to lose both their mother and grandmother to dementia.

Alex Parker, 37, his four siblings and their three children, wanted to celebrate the lives of mother Geraldine Norris and grandmother Mary Parsons while raising vital funds for Alzheimer’s Society.

Speaking on Saturday, Alex, who lives in Milton, said: ‘Dementia is a horrible condition and one that has devastated our family.

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Raising money for the Alzheimer's Society. Picture: Sam Stephenson

‘To lose not only our grandmother but then our mother as well nine years later was incredibly distressing.

‘But to stand together before the sea of people in Portsmouth today, many of whom have been affected by dementia too, was an honour.

‘Not a day goes by when we don’t think of our mum and nan, and it is so important to try and raise money to help other families who are going through what we did.’

Alex’s nan Mary, who lived most of her life in the Portsmouth area and worked as a first aider at the city’s former Smith’s Crisps factory, passed away in 2009 at the age of 86.

Jo Kerr and Chloe Kerr, who are walking in memory of their dad and granddad. Picture: Sam Stephenson

His mum Geraldine, who was born and bred in Portsmouth, died in 2018 aged 66.

They were both diagnosed with early-onset dementia, with Alex’s mum, who was also a teacher, discovering she had the same condition just seven months after her own mother had died.

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Alex added: ‘The hardest thing for Mum was that she knew exactly what she was facing.

Monica Jackson, 53, and Georgia Bettam, 20, who are waking for their dementia clients. Picture: Sam Stephenson

‘She was devastated to lose her mother and to then receive the same diagnosis herself so soon afterwards was just awful.

‘Very early in my mother’s illness she lost her ability to speak clearly.

‘It was very much like speaking to a toddler where you have to decode what they say.

‘Eventually she lost the ability to speak at all which made it even more difficult for her and the rest of us.

Laurel Smith, 38, Cheryl McCrudden, 68, Dominic Smith, 39, and Maisie Smith, 11, and Aria Smith, eight. Picture: Sam Stephenson

‘She had been such a smart and hardworking woman, it was just devastating.

‘By the end of her life, she couldn’t do anything for herself. She was like a newborn but without all the positives of a new beginning; it was the end.

‘Dementia is so cruel and the more research that can be done to stop this happening to future generations the better.’

More than 950 people united to give dementia the boot at Castle Field, walking either 3km or 8km along the coastline.

Mum Jo Kerr, 42, and her 16-year-old daughter, Chloe Kerr, were walking in memory of their dad and grandad.

Jo said: ‘My dad unfortunately had a stroke in 2010 and contracted vascular dementia.’

Alex Parker with his family all walking for Geraldine Norris, (Mum) and Mary Parsons, (Nan). Picture: Sam Stephenson

She was supported by Alzheimer’s Society as she cared for her father and when he passed away in 2013.

Jo added: ‘Alzheimer’s Society really supported us through everything.

‘It was having someone to speak to if I was absolutely shattered. It was quite a challenge sometimes.’

The mother and daughter said that they were ‘nervous’ about taking on the longer 8km walk, but pleased to have raised £100 so far.

Jo said: ‘I’m quite emotional - it’s my dad. I work with dementia and it’s important to get that awareness out there.’

Colleagues Monica Jackman, 53, and Georgia Bettam, 20, both from Havant, are dementia domiciliary care workers.

Decked out in bright wigs in the Alzheimer’s Society colours, the pair took on the 8km walk.

Between them, they have raised nearly £300 for the charity.

Monica said: ‘We’re doing this for our clients - we work in people’s homes and we want to just keep on giving.

‘Feeling overwhelmed - we only see a small amount of people in our work, but this shows that it affects so many people.’

Another Portsmouth family turned out in memory of a much-loved member.

Laurel Smith, 38, her husband Dominic, 39, and their children Maisie, 11, and Aria, eight, as well as mother and grandmother Cheryl McCruddun, 68, were taking part in memory of the family’s ‘funny’ granddad, who passed away last July.

Mum Laurel said: ‘It’s a mixture of emotions - looking at the memory tree, you feel emotional.’

Funds raised at the Portsmouth Memory Walk will help Alzheimer’s Society to campaign for change, fund research and support people living with dementia.

The condition is the UK’s biggest killer, and affects someone new every three minutes.

Linda Goddard, Alzheimer’s Society area manager, said: ‘We are in awe of our incredible fundraisers, including Alex Parker and his family, who turned out in their hundreds to support the 2,360 people living with dementia in Portsmouth.

‘It was extremely moving to see so many people come together to honour or remember their loved ones.

‘The pandemic has been catastrophic for people with dementia, with Alzheimer’s Society’s services, like our Dementia Connect support line, used over six million times since lockdown began in March 2020.

‘Every pound raised from the Portsmouth Memory Walk will help Alzheimer’s Society provide information and support, improve care, fund research and create lasting change for people affected by dementia.

‘I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped make this year’s Memory Walk such a brilliant success.’

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