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Two intrepid members of staff from Bradford Royal Infirmary have raised over £5,000 for dementia patients by walking along the Great Wall of China.

Consultant Physician, Care of the Elderly, Eliz Brierley, and Lead Nurse for Dementia, Danni Woods, took on a 22-mile five-day trek along stretches of the famous structure for Bradford Teaching Hospitals’ Forget-Me-Not fund.

It provides equipment and extra support for people with dementia and their families.

Danni said: “I think I can speak for both of us when I say that it was an amazing experience. We met a bunch of incredible people of all ages and abilities from all over the country and became a real team.”

The pair walked along the Gubeikou, Jinshanling, Mutianyu and Juyongguan sections of the wall, which are all found in north-eastern China and graded ‘tough’ and ‘challenging’, due to a large number of ascents and descents.

“It certainly was very tough throughout,” added Danni. “It wasn’t the distance – it was the steps which made it hard and the searing heat.

“We walked up and down over 100 watchtowers and the temperature was over 30 degrees every day. We had to drink four or five litres of water a day and a hat throughout to make sure you didn’t get heatstroke.”

Holding onto the wall

“If you had fallen coming back down from the watchtowers you would have died – you found yourself holding onto the wall to get back down.”

Eliz said: “It was so steep. Climbing up to the watchtowers left us breathless, and then coming back down the other side was terrifying.

“We both trained really hard for it so I think that stood us in good stead. But the heat definitely took its toll!”

Danni said she had also been struck by the contrast between the wall in places popular with tourists and more rural areas.

“In the touristy areas the wall was in really, really good condition, but in the rural areas – where we were the only people – of lot of it was in ruins. There were some bits of it that you could just not go on.

“Our guides were amazing. We learnt how to speak basic Chinese and count to ten, and one of the guides sang Chinese songs to us. He was great fun.

“I must admit I was a little bit worried about the food and thought we would be having things like chicken feet. That didn’t happen but it was rice for breakfast, dinner and tea.

“The accommodation was fine but very basic in some areas. We had to sleep on wooden beds with rice pillows, and some people thought they heard scratching inside!”

Thanks to a number of fundraising events, including a race night and beetle drive, plus sponsorship, the pair have now raised over £5,000.

Danni added: “We’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has supported us and made donations. We’re really pleased. The money we raise will go towards enhancing the caring environment for our patients. It will make such a difference.”

Help with anxiety

Some of the resources already benefiting our patients include brightly-coloured crockery which can help with visual impairment, and revolutionary ‘My Life’ digital reminiscence units, which can help with anxiety. Eliz and Danni hope the money they raise can help to provide more of these helpful aids.

“The ‘My Life’ units are invaluable because they can really help patients with cognitive impairment,” explained Eliz.

“By simply touching the screen, the software stimulates people with dementia to start lively discussions, debates, and the telling of long-forgotten tales. Personal media items can also be uploaded, allowing families, carers and people with dementia to view images from the past. This ensures everyone can have a meaningful and personal experience.”

Danni added: “These units plus the other equipment we are able to buy all helps to create environments which support our patients who are experiencing dementia related difficulties.

“Our priority is to maintain a person’s independence as far as possible and make people feel relaxed while at the same time, providing a stimulating environment which provokes conversation and engagement.”

“Patients with dementia don’t fare well in a hospital environment so we have to make our environment fit in with them rather than them work to us. We need a whole new way of thinking and learning.”

Danni and Eliz are still accepting donations to the Forget-Me-Not fund on their Justgiving page here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Danielle-Woods4