Hundreds step out in Belfast to raise awareness and funds in the quest for a cure for dementia
Some 1,600 people whose lives have been touched by dementia walked the grounds of Stormont Estate on Saturday to raise vital funds and pay tribute to their loved ones.
Cutting the ribbon to start this year's Belfast Memory Walk was Elaine McConnell and Emily Wilson, two women who have felt the sting of the condition in their own lives.
Elaine walked in tribute to her uncle Bill McVitty who sadly lost his battle in May of this year. She said the event brought back fond memories of Bill, who loved to get out walking in the later stages of his dementia.
"It was just a really nice, warm atmosphere, there was a real sense of community amongst people and it was a lovely way to bring people together to raise awareness and to raise more funds," Elaine said.
"Bill loved to walk, he was a great walker so it was an appropriate way to remember him."
While donations are still being made, Saturday's event has already raised over £66,000, every penny of which will go towards finding a cure for dementia.
The event was particularly poignant for carer Emily Wilson, who walked for the first time without her husband Jim (72) after years of taking part together. Diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in April 2014, Jim is now in Bradley Manor nursing home in Belfast, leaving Emily to take on the challenge herself.
"It was a very bittersweet day walking for the first time without Jim," Emily told the Belfast Telegraph. "Just three years ago he was carrying his grandson Christian at the walk, but now he is too unsteady - that's how quickly this disease can progress.
"Jim just loved walking. He used to park the car in the furthest corner of a car park and say: 'Come on Emily, a walk will do you good'."
Emily has committed herself to raising awareness and educating others about dementia following Jim's diagnosis, and she hopes no other families will feel as lost as she did. "Life has changed, even in those five years," Emily explained. "When Jim was diagnosed there were no navigators, there wasn't as much awareness, so I don't want anybody else to have the journey that we did."
Almost 20,000 people live with some form of the condition in Northern Ireland, while another 830,000 are coping with it throughout the UK.
Experts believe that research in the field trails behind other health conditions due to decades of underfunding.