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Man makes 'park run pilgrimage' in memory of his late wife

John Hirst in action Photo:
John's wife, Pat, who died from dementia in 2012

A devoted runner from Stockton-on-Tees is taking part in eight parkruns in places that were important to his late wife to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

John Hirst will tackle eight 5km runs across the UK in memory of his wife Pat, who died in July, aged 66, having been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) in 2012.

While most people associate dementia with memory loss and old age, some of the rarer forms of dementia like FTD can impact people at a younger age and initial symptoms vary.

People living with FTD usually have changes in their behaviour and personality and even their speech. This week is World FTD Awareness Week.

Pat’s symptoms included apathy, loss of language and behaviour changes.

Pat was diagnosed in 2012, but with hindsight her symptoms probably started as far back as 2005.

At the time some things seemed strange, such as arriving at our destination after a car journey and Pat not attempting to get out of the car.

She seemed to lose interest in most things that she had enjoyed doing for many years. She stopped knitting and couldn’t get motivated to do her embroidery.

From around four years before she died you could not have a meaningful conversation with her. She could say something meaningful but only if prompted, she couldn’t initiate it. Then from around two and a half years before she died she couldn’t say a word.

She was confined to a wheelchair for the last 18 months of her life. For someone who used to regularly go on 10 to 15 mile walks it was very distressing.

– John Hirst

John’s first run was in York on August 12 and the final one will be at his home event at Tees Barrage on February 17, which would have been the couple’s ruby wedding anniversary.

The main reason for doing this is to mark Pat’s life. It’s part of the grieving process, visiting the important places in her life.

I also want to raise some money for research. There is still so much about FTD that isn’t understood and it can be difficult to diagnose. A treatment still seems a long way away, but I’m hopeful there could one day be a cure of FTD.

– John Hirst