‘You just have to get on with it’


Chris Gra­ham was just 34 when he was di­ag­nosed with early-on­set Alzheimer’s dis­ease. At the time, he was serv­ing in the Royal Lo­gis­tic Corps of the Bri­tish Army, sta­tioned in Sierra Leone, West Africa.

Grow­ing up, Chris had no idea that de­men­tia could run in his fam­ily un­til his older brother, Tony, was di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease in 2009, when he was just 38.

That rev­e­la­tion, plus their fa­ther’s pre­ma­ture death at only 42 from what the fam­ily now be­lieves was the same con­di­tion, rang alarm bells. Chris de­cided to find out if he was ge­net­i­cally pre­dis­posed to de­vel­op­ing the de­gen­er­a­tive brain dis­ease. In 2010, a blood test con­firmed his fears.

Know­ing he was a car­rier of the early-on­set gene also meant Chris’s two chil­dren – Natalie and Mar­cus, who live in Nor­way with their mother – had a 50/50 chance of de­vel­op­ing the dis­ease, too.

For Chris, who lives in Manch­ester, the news meant a se­ries of life changes. Just months short of com­plet­ing 24 years’ mil­i­tary ser­vice – he was 16 when he joined up – it was in­evitable that he would face a med­i­cal dis­charge from the armed ser­vices.

But life be­came even more chal­leng­ing with the news that Chris and his then-part­ner were ex­pect­ing a baby.

‘Our un­born child also had a one-in-two chance of de­vel­op­ing the dis­ease, which meant we had to con­sider a ter­mi­na­tion,’ ad­mits Chris.

But his life-af­firm­ing op­ti­mism kicked into gear.

‘ We fig­ured that, by the time our child was 18, med­i­cal ad­vance­ments could mean the out­look would be much brighter,’ he says.

The cou­ple’s baby son is now two years old, and his ar­rival has given Chris a new fo­cus and mo­ti­va­tion.

Con­vinced that phys­i­cal fit­ness holds the key to main­tain­ing his men­tal well­ness, he has be­come a cam­paigner and fundraiser for de­men­tia aware­ness.

First, he cy­cled 16,000 miles around the coast­line of Amer­ica and Canada and, via a Just­Giv­ing page, raised more than £40,000 for Alzheimer’s Re­search UK.

Ear­lier this year, he rode from John O’Groats to Land’s End dur­ing De­men­tia Aware­ness Week. Next, he has am­bi­tious plans to cy­cle round the world!

Re­ceiv­ing his best award, Chris, now 41, said, ‘ You just have to get on with life, what­ever it throws at you. Cy­cling and rais­ing money have given me a new di­rec­tion.’

Chris joined the Army at 16 Now he’s fight­ing for Alzheimer’s suf­fer­ers

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