There are a staggering 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with this number set to climb to 1 million by 2025.
This debilitating condition – which ‘describes a group of symptoms including memory loss, confusion, mood changes and difficulty with day-to-day tasks’ – has a profound impact on both the sufferer and their friends and family.
And one woman who knows this first hand, is 53-year-old Karen Penny from the Gower, South Wales.
Karen witnessed both her mother-in-law and father-in-law succumb to different forms of dementia.
And amidst her grief the mum-of-one decided to take an on amazing challenge to raise vital funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity.
In January Karen set out on a continuous four-year, 20,000 mile around the entire coast of the UK and Ireland, and has just touched down in the UK after completing the Ireland leg of her journey three months ahead of schedule.
With a tent on her back and a smile on her face, Karen walked her way through stunning coastal locations including Drogheda – one of Ireland’s oldest towns – and the pretty coastal town of Skerries.
After a quick pit stop home to check in with family and friends Karen is re-starting from the Pembrokshire coastal town of Fishguard (where she last walked to!) and following the Welsh Coastal Path north through Newport, St Dogmaels, Aberporth, Newquay, Llanon and Aberstwyth in the coming days.
Her whole route will take in a minimum of 20 of the largest islands and is expected to take around 3-and-half years.
The positive effects of walking on both our physical and mental health has been well documented, so for Karen it may well have been a case of it being as much about the journey as it was the destination.
When asked whether the walk had helped her process her grief Karen told Woman & Home, “It has. I have a lot of time on my own while I’m walking – probably around 9 to 10 hours a day – which has given me lots of time to reflect, go back and think about things and the loved ones I’ve lost. When I was in Ireland, I spent a lot of time with people who had huge multi-generational families, and that’s when you really miss the people close to you, and those that are no longer there.
“In a short space of time we lost both of my in-laws to different forms of dementia and the wonderful closeness of the Irish families I’ve met on route really makes me think about that, and how lovely it would be if Kingsley and Alma were still here with us. It’s a void that will never be replaced. I’ve come more and more to realise that what’s important is life is your family – they are who you are.”
The retiree has already reached an impressive 35 per cent of her £100,000 fundraising target – see her Just Giving page – with donations coming in from 85 supporters to date.
It’s believed that it’s the first time the above feat has been achieved by a woman.
On the highlight of her trip to date Karen added, “So far, it has been the genuine hospitality shown to me by every single person I met in Ireland – without exception. They were so wonderful inviting me – a complete stranger – into their homes, and I’ll never forget their warmth and kindness.”
In fact, she made many friends on the Ireland leg of her journey and despite being all kitted up for nights under the stars, she was was offered hospitality and beds for the night 90 per cent of the time she was there.
If you’ve been inspired by Karen’s story, why not become an Alzheimer’s Research UK Explorer? Join a 26-mile hike through the beautiful Peak District National Park on 21 September (World Alzheimer’s Day) and raise £250 or more for pioneering dementia research. Sign up or find out more at alzres.uk/explorer.
Have you worked to raise funds for a charity that has a personal meaning for you?