Family struggles with Alzheimer’s

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October 4, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Raymond and Mary Ellen Dix had looked forward to their retirement years. They thought they would have all the time in the world to travel and visit grandchildren. He had worked for 32 years at the City of Iola power plant, and she worked 20 years at Walmart.
Their time was cut short in April 2009 when he was diagnosed with Alz-heimer’s.
“This was supposed to be the best years of our lives. A time to enjoy a carefree lifestyle,” she said.
Mary Ellen said she didn’t suspect her husband had Alzheimer’s. He was getting a little hard of hearing and would ask for questions to be repeated.
It was their children who began to notice a change in Raymond and asked Mary Ellen about their father’s condition.
“My kids said, ‘Mom, is there something wrong with Dad? He doesn’t remember things and seems a little distant,” she said.
Raymond, 66, was a little forgetful and  more quiet than usual, but otherwise seemed healthy, Mary Ellen said.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Alzheimer’s.
A person with the disease doesn’t automatically become a vegetable. The degeneration of the mind happens slowly over a number of years.
There is no cure and no sure way to tell if a person has Alzheimer’s until death and an autopsy is performed.

THE COUPLE visited a doctor in Wichita where Raymond went through five hours of testing, mainly for memory retention.
Raymond is now on medication that helps slow the symptoms of the disease but it is only a matter of time until the medications no longer work.
The hardest part of the day for a person with the disease is sundown.
“I don’t understand why, but as the sun sets Raymond become more subdued and a vacant look appears in his eyes,” she said.
Raymond tries to do what is asked of him by his family. He no longer drives, and his family visited the sheriff’s department and had his photograph taken in case he should wander off and become lost. The family also has a purple flag, a color associated with the disease, planted in their front yard to alert people an Alzheimer’s patient lives there.
In his early stages of the disease, Raymond’s concentration slowed and he had trouble finding the right words when talking with his family.
He is now entering a more advanced stage.
He tends to sleep more and is easily wakened.
Mary Ellen asks people to talk slowly with Raymond and to ask only one question at a time, giving him time to process what is being said.
In the final stages of the disease he may not be able to walk and will be completely dependent on his caregiver.

THE DIXES have been open with family, friends and the community about his diagnosis, because they feel it helps him as well as others to feel comfortable when they are around him.
They attend Alzheimer’s Support Group meetings each month at Windsor Place.
“The support group meetings are informative and have helped me deal with Raymond’s disease,” Mary Ellen said.
The Dixes will serve as honorary chairs at Saturday’s Alzheimer’s Memory Walk on the Iola square.
Twenty members of their family have banded together to participate in the Memory Walk as Raymond’s Road Runners. To date, the group has raised more than $1,000.
“We know so many people in the community and if seeing us involved in the Memory Walk helps one person accept the disease or one person be able to cope with the disease, then it’s worth it,” Raymond said.

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