THIS weekend Shona Gardiner will be putting her best foot forward for a cause very close to her heart. The 17-year-old from Downpatrick, who has experienced the devastating impact of dementia first-hand, is set to join hundreds of fundraisers at the Belfast Memory Walk.
Shona is encouraging others to join her at the Stormont Estate on Saturday (24 September) to raise vital funds and awareness for the Alzheimer’s Society. She is taking part in the event in memory of her granny, Pauline Gardiner, whose dementia contributed to her death on 25 November last year, aged 80.
While there was more than 60 years between them, Shona and Pauline were best friends and enjoyed days out together where they shared lots of laughs. “We would have gone to Newcastle with my granda Eamon to get ice cream and she would tell me funny stories from back in the day,” said Shona. “She also loved sitting out in her garden and gardening was her favourite thing to do. “Her garden was always immaculate. “When she died, it was such a big thing in our family because we all loved her so much. “She was everyone’s best friend, including me. “She had six children, 12 grandchildren and one greatgrandchild and we were all so close to her. “When she passed away it was my first experience of grief – my first big loss. “Sometimes I’m in the house and I find something that reminds me of her and I just start crying.” Pauline had been living with dementia for a number of years but last year her symptoms got worse over a short space of time. “She would have mixed us up with each other and things, but it was nothing too bad until last year when it came on very rapidly. “She started to get confused about where she was and would say she wanted to go back to where she lived 18 years ago and that was very difficult for everyone. “Carers and therapists helped Granny to be cared for at home but she became very ill and spent the last week of her life in hospital and that was where she passed away.”
After seeing an ad for Memory Walk on TV Shona and her dad, Kevin Gardiner, decided to do the walk in Pauline’s memory. “As soon as we saw the ad I said ‘We have to do that’. “I wanted to do something to raise money for other families going through this. We’ll have my granny’s picture with us on the day and we’re doing it for her. I’m looking forward to telling other people her story and hearing their stories too.” Alzheimer’s Society in Northern Ireland is encouraging people to join Shona this Saturday to help people affected by dementia through some of the hardest and most frightening times. Memory Walk will bring together people who have been personally affected by dementia, those who want to walk to remember a loved one, and people looking to raise money for charity.
Bernadine McCrory, Alzheimer’s Society Country Director, said: “Too many people in Northern Ireland are facing dementia alone without adequate support. “We want everyone affected by dementia to know that whoever you are, whatever you’re going through, you can turn to us. “We are in awe of our amazing fundraisers, like Shona, who go above and beyond to raise vital funds for Alzheimer’s Society and awareness for the 22,000 people living with dementia in Northern Ireland. “Every step our fundraisers take will to help us provide a lifeline of support for as many people affected by dementia as possible. “We can’t wait to see walkers of all ages and abilities return to Stormont Estate this autumn and I would call on family, friends and colleagues from across Northern Ireland to put their best foot forward to support this vital cause.”
Hundreds of walkers have already registered to take part in the Belfast Memory Walk, which will be on 24 September at Stormont Estate. Supporters can also opt to walk on their own, or with loved ones, on the paths, pavements, parks or pebbles in a location of their choosing throughout September.
Memory Walk events have been a regular fixture in the autumn calendar for over 10 years, seeing half a million walkers raise over £41 million for Alzheimer’s Society. Visit memorywalk.org.uk to find out more about organising your own Memory Walk or taking part in the Alzheimer’s Society’s organised events this autumn.