Mother-of-two diagnosed with dementia aged just 39 aims to smash fundraising targets and challenge social stereotypes by taking part in Memory Walk event
Published on Monday, 13th August 2018
Sarah Park has been diagnosed with dementia; a condition more traditionally associated with the elderly – she is determined to raise funds for research into the disease and to challenge the social stereotypes that she feels surround it.
Every three minutes, someone in the UK develops dementia. It is expected that 1 million people in the country will have developed the condition by 2021.
Sarah Park has been diagnosed with the disease aged just 39. She is a mother of two and has vowed to take on all the challenges that dementia throws her way – she will be taking part in the Alzheimer’s Society’s Memory Walk event in September.
Her ultimate goal is to raise money to help researchers find a cure for the condition that affects her and thousands of others in the country and around the world.
Sarah lives a happy family life in Milnrow, Greater Manchester with husband Richard and children George, 14, and Emily, 12.
Sarah describes how her condition was repeatedly mistaken for depression by doctors who struggled to find the right answers as dementia-type symptoms arose.
Dementia-related issues first materialised 18 months ago when the mother started making uncharacteristic mistakes while working as a senior cardiac physiologist for the NHS. To compensate, Sarah would get up earlier for work – as early as five o’clock in the morning – so as to get to work earlier and spend longer analysing scans.
‘I thought I could work my way through it by doubling the effort and that worked for 12 months, so I kept plodding on – but then there was another mistake,’ Sarah recounts.
‘It was nothing major and it got picked up so no patient was ever at risk but I noticed mistakes and I just could not remember why I had made them. It was horrible and that’s why I said to Richard: “I can’t do it anymore.”
‘It wasn’t worth it – it was just one mistake, but it can make all the difference to someone’s health.’
Husband Richard had also had suspicions for a little while: ‘It’s probably going back further than I realise – repeating stories on social occasions like a family barbeque which I put down to a couple of glasses of Prosecco,’ he said.
‘But then I noticed things at home a bit more – like putting cups in the wrong cupboard or mixing up the kids’ washing and there was the work situation.’
In January of this year, the couple were at the Cerebral Function Unit in Salford and, a few weeks later, Sarah was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
‘I was gutted – it felt like a kick in the teeth,’ admitted Richard. ‘But it was also a relief that we finally knew what was going on.
‘We came back in the afternoon, so the kids were away at school, had a hug, had a cry but dusted ourselves off and, by the time the kids came back from school, we were fine – I took the kids to one side separately and told them about the diagnosis and how they would just have to support Sarah every step of the way.’
Since her diagnosis, Sarah has been leading by example: keeping fit with spinning classes and boot camps, walking dogs for friends and family, and doing the teas at the local cricket club where her son is a first teamer.
‘I’m enjoying life on a day-by-day basis and, with the summer we’re having, it’s been amazing,’ she says. ‘There’s no point looking too far ahead – you’re planning and suddenly their childhood has gone. It doesn’t take long.
‘I miss work because I’m a caring sort of person, and I love a good chat – I’ll be volunteering at the local hospice because I’ve got plenty to give my community.
‘I don’t see my dementia as the end of the world. I was devastated to start with but I’ve kind of got over that now,’ she maintains.
‘There plenty more left of me yet – I’m 39 years young.’
To that end, Sarah will be taking part in the Alzheimer’s Society’s Memory Walk in Manchester’s Heaton Park to raise funds for research into the condition with the hope of finding a cure.
‘While Sarah’s dementia diagnosis at such a young age is devastating, it’s inspiring to see her taking in Memory Walk and doing her bit to raise awareness of younger onset dementia,’ said Alzheimer’s Society Chief Executive Officer, Jeremy Hughes.
‘Every pound raised through Memory Walk will help Alzheimer’s Society provide vital information and support, improve care, fund research and create lasting change for people affected by the disease.
‘I would urge people across England, wales and Northern Ireland to unite with us and join the dementia movement by signing up for a local Memory Walk today.’
Memory Walk is Alzheimer’s Society’s flagship fundraising campaign, with over 41 walks taking place in September and October in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. More information can be found on the charity's website.