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No ordinary mid-life crisis

Something happened when I hit 50. I think it was the realisation that my mum had started to show signs of dementia at the age of 68 and I’m only 18 years away from that. Perhaps it was a mid-life crisis, but I didn’t immediately book a cruise or have Botox. Instead, I set about completing 50 challenges to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Dementia touches so many people – almost a million in the UK – and, although it’s rare that dementia is directly inherited, it hasn’t escaped me that following in my mum’s footsteps is a possibility. It didn’t just affect my mum, either – both my grandmothers experienced dementia in later life, and my dad had Parkinson’s for 16 years, which led to Parkinson’s dementia in the last couple of years of his life. He died aged just 75.

My mum passed away in February 2022. She was 76 and lived the last two and a half years of her life bed-bound in a nursing home with advanced vascular dementia, unable to do anything for herself. All I could do was give thanks every day that she was safe, comfortable, and not in distress.

Approaching my half-century and having seen what my mum and dad went through with dementia made me fearful. I’ve watched neurological diseases rob both parents of fulfilling later lives and I really don’t want this for myself.

While I know there’s currently no way to prevent dementia entirely, I’m acutely aware that regular exercise and eating a balanced diet will aid my brain health – and my health overall. I also know that keeping socially active and stretching my brain by learning new skills will help to keep me mentally fit.

But, on reaching this significant milestone, I suddenly woke up to the fact that I needed to take this to another level if I was going to stand the best chance of warding off dementia.

It was time to take action!

The idea to take on 50 challenges at 50 came from a friend who was sponsored to do a challenge a day for 50 days ahead of his 50th birthday. I decided to put my own spin on it, up the stakes, and make it a year-long campaign.

As I write this, I’m into the second half of my year and I’ve still got 23 challenges to go, but I’ve already raised more than £4,000 for dementia research. And, importantly, I’ve got a lot of people talking about dementia too.

I’ve found that a lot of people are surprised that there IS something we can do to protect our brains and that looking after our hearts, regularly challenging our brains and staying connected to the people around us can help reduce our risk of developing dementia.

Without even trying, many of my first 27 challenges play to the three pillars of the Think Brain Health campaign:

Love your heart

  • I started working with a personal trainer – two sessions a week keep me moving and improve my cardio fitness. I also did a 50-station exercise challenge in the park.
  • I quit smoking altogether.
  • I completed a month without booze and then did Dry January.

Stay sharp

  • I learned to paddleboard, ride a horse and perform a dance routine.
  • I learned to drive a river barge and navigate locks.
  • I spent a few days intensively crunching numbers while I caught up on a backlog of self-employed bookkeeping paperwork.

Keep connected

  • I hosted a Christmas Pyjama Day for my community singalong and social group.
  • I baked sweet treats for a community afternoon tea, and then attended the event.
  • I braved my lack of self-confidence to perform live at a Christmas party and had everyone up singing and dancing along.

I have lots more challenges in the planning stages, including learning to play guitar and bass, organising a community quiz, open water swimming and doing stand-up comedy.

With my newfound knowledge around brain health, I will focus my intentions towards the three pillars, and be even more aware of how each challenge supports my heart health and/or helps me to stay sharp and connected.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all will be to continue to implement these positive changes in my life without the motivation of my fundraising challenges. Wish me luck!

These are my challenges – now it’s your turn. For more inspiration, take a look at these simple tips for better brain health:

About the author

Shelle Luscombe

Shelle Luscombe is fundraising for Alzheimer’s Research UK after supporting both her parents following diagnoses of dementia. She is taking on her 50 at 50 fundraising challenge – completing 50 challenges over the year or so following her 50th birthday – to raise awareness and vital funds for dementia research.