HAMLET — The Dixon family is all too familiar with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Their patriarch, 81-year-old Hayden Dixon, was first diagnosed in 2011 at the age of 74.
His son Darin said the experience is like a rollercoaster.
“(There are) some good days, some not-so-good days,” he said. “We never say ‘bad.’”
Darin Dixon said the disease has progressed more in the past year and his father is now in stage six of seven and is under total care 24-7.
About 40 members of the family, with purple T-shirts denoting them as the Dixon Ramblers, joined with more than 100 others others Saturday for the inaugural Alzheimer’s Walk Fundraiser, sponsored by the Richmond County Dementia Capable Action Team, at Cole Auditorium Saturday morning.
“We feel pretty confident we had a great turnout,” said Jacqueline Welch, director of Aging Services, adding there were about 150 participants in the walk.
According to the 2017 State of the County Health Report, Alzheimer’s was the sixth leading cause of death in 2016. The number of Alzheimer’s deaths in the county increased from four in 2011 to 25 in 2015, as shown in the 2016 Community Health Assessment.
The event raised nearly $3,800, with 20 percent going to the Alzheimer’s Association. Welch said the remaining 80 percent will stay in the county and be used for educational workshops and devices to help caregivers of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
One such device, she said, is a set of door chimes to notify a caregiver when their patient leaves a room.
While Darin Dixon and his five siblings take turns on the evenings and weekends looking after their father, Joanne Everett serves as the full-time caregiver.
“She is our angel on Earth,” he said. “She has been wonderful to him.”
Hayden Dixon, who was at the walk, lives with daughter Donna Whitley, and Darin Dixon said he handles his father’s medications, doctor appointments and financial matters.
He added that music is a “soothing tool” for when his father gets “agitated” and it helps “keep him at bay.”
“He’s been a guitarist all his life,” Darin Dixon said, with Chet Atkins being one of his father’s favorite performers.
To calm him down, family members will either sing or play a CD of Hayden Dixon playing music with his friends from years ago.
“This disease is constant. It’s tiresome … tiresome because of the toll it takes on him,” Darin Dixon said. “But we love him through it.”