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Thousands expected at charity bike ride for brain health research

Before Toronto resident Michelle Jackson’s mother, Molly Broe, took up golfing, she was an avid cyclist.

Now, her mother’s love for riding bikes is just one reason Jackson and her son are cycling alongside approximately 10,000 others in the Bike for Brain Health on Sunday. The charity bike ride raises money and awareness to help fight dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain-related illnesses.

Broe died last September at 90 after living with Alzheimer’s and dementia for almost 20 years.

“She loved cycling her whole life,” Jackson said. “So it’s extra special that I’m doing something in memory of her on my bike.”

In fact, Broe met her future husband, Jackson’s father, in Ireland when both were members of a club for distance and racing cyclists.

Jackson says she’s done triathlons in her 30s, but hasn’t been on her bike in several years. The 50-kilometre ride she’s been training for will be the longest she’s ever done. As of Thursday, she had raised $2,235 from family and friends toward her goal of $2,500.

The event is organized by the Baycrest Foundation, which raises money for research, education, care, and innovation at Baycrest, a health complex that includes a geriatric hospital, retirement home and world-class research centres focused on aging and dementia.

More than 500,000 people in Canada live with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to Baycrest, and that number is expected to almost double by 2030.

Funds to support brain health research

The Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway will be closed to vehicles in both directions between 2 a.m. and 4 p.m. to allow the cyclists to traverse the wide roads traffic-free with the cityscape in the background. Participants can sign up for 25, 50, or 75-kilometre routes, or take part in a 10-kilometre family ride.

The event also includes programming throughout the day at the Enercare Centre at Exhibition Place.

During last year’s event, some motorists complained after parts of the DVP and Gardiner re-opened later than expected. But people involved with the event say the benefits of the event outweigh any temporary inconvenience to drivers.

“We understand that it can be a little frustrating … but it’s nowhere near the inconvenience of having a loved one with dementia,” said Josh Cooper, CEO of the Baycrest Foundation.

People cycle on a highway.
Around 10,000 cyclists are expected to ride in the Bike for Brain Health on Sunday. Funds raised from the event will go towards research conducted at Baycrest Health Sciences aimed at mitigating age-related illnesses and impairment, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain-related illnesses. (Bike for Brain Health)

Last year’s event raised $4.4 million, but Cooper said his goal for this year is $6 million. Previously funds were distributed to different areas of Baycrest’s work, but Cooper said this year they’re focusing on funding research.

He said research done at Baycrest, which is home to the Rotman Research Institute and the Canadian Consortium on Degeneration in Aging, has shown that at least 40 per cent of dementia cases worldwide can be attributed to lifestyle factors, such as exercise, diet, social engagement and cognitive engagement.

“Our research has shown that through a proper healthy lifestyle, through adjustments in the way we live, and not with any drugs or medications, we can actually stop up to 40 per cent of new cases of dementia through 15 different lifestyle modifications,” he said.

“That’s the kind of work that we’re doing.”

Facility takes innovative approach

Dr. Nicole Anderson, a neuroscience researcher at Baycrest, said the money will help support research on maintaining brain health as people get older and how to treat those with poor brain health.

It will also support the recently opened Kimel Family Centre for Brain Health and Wellness. The “world’s first research-based community centre” is taking an innovative approach by allowing anyone over 50 in the community to get an in-depth evaluation of the genetic, health and lifestyle factors contributing to their dementia risk.

The lifestyle factors then be addressed through programming at the centre, which is equipped with a pool, gym, art room, room for group activities such as classes and other programming.

“Based on where they’re at risk, they sign up for programs in the community centre,” said Anderson. “They’re followed up every six months and reassessed so we can tell them how they’re improving.”

Throughout the process, the researchers collect data to help inform their research on brain health.

Jackson wishes she knew more about Baycrest’s work when she was in charge of her mother’s care. But now that she does, she’ll be keeping an eye on her own brain health.

“I want to make sure that I’m living a lifestyle that’s going to cut down on some of those … factors that could lead me to eventually develop symptoms of dementia,” she said.

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