Montreal family takes life by the handlebars, and raises funds for brain research

Helping to bathe and dress your grandfather is not a typical responsibility for a 17-year-old Montreal high school student. But even as teenagers, Matthew and Evan Wener were all too aware of the toll caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can take on a family. Both their grandfather Aaron Adler and his wife Laura suffered from the illness. They eventually died from Alzheimer’s related causes only months apart.

Being involved in their care shaped Matthew and Evan’s outlook on the world, and contributed to the course their own lives took. Matthew now works as a physiotherapist at a rehabilitation centre, where the vast majority of his patients have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. He and his brother Evan, together with their extended family, also established the annual fundraiser A Ride to Remember, to raise money for brain research. All proceeds from their ride go to Brain Canada.

“We started this event because there wasn’t much awareness of Alzheimer’s and dementia,” explains Matthew. “We wanted to build something that would create awareness, and hopefully grow across the country, so that more people would know about Brain Canada and all that it does.”

Brain Canada views the brain as one and seeks to understand the different brain functions and dysfunctions as part of a single interconnected system. The one brain approach means that research advances and discoveries in an individual area can have a ripple effect across the spectrum of brain disorders.

“We believe in the cause very much. Brain Canada brings a high level of professionalism to research and how research funds are distributed. The work that Brain Canada supports is phenomenal. It’s really important to have that interconnectedness of research on the brain, and on the central nervous system. Any advances gained in Alzheimer’s and dementia research should be leveraged in other kinds of brain research as well,” notes Dan Pfeffer, Evan and Matthew’s cousin by marriage and A Ride to Remember executive.

Together, the Wener and Adler families have made it their collective mission to fund research on brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

A Ride to Remember, a cycling event that raised approximately $20,000 last year for brain research, is in its fourth year. In the past, the event has appealed to serious cyclists, a race covering up to 125 kilometres between Montreal and Ottawa. This year, due to restrictions around COVID-19, A Ride to Remember has taken on a new form as a virtual fundraiser, and it’s open to participants anywhere who wish to take part. 

In addition to raising funds for research into diagnosing, treating and eventually curing brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia, the family wants to send a message of support out to caregivers, and to encourage the community to be present in the lives of those afflicted.

“There’s a stigma around Alzheimer’s – even friends, they don’t know how to hang out with them anymore. Even just showing up to say hi would be enough. Just coming by to say hi or eating your lunch with them, those are things that not only help the family, they help the patient as well,” says Evan Wener.

Learn more about A Ride to Remember