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Dr. Jim Neill Alzheimer’s Walk set for April 11 at Thomas University

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and each year that number continues to grow.

On April 11 Alzheimer’s disease will take center stage during the Dr. Jim Neill Alzheimer’s Walk at Thomas University. The event is named in memory of Dr. Jim Neill, a Thomasville physician who diagnosed himself with the disease.

The Dr. Jim Neill Alzheimer’s Awareness Group, a faith-based volunteer organization, is coordinating the walk.

All funds raised during the event will remain in Thomas County to provide respite care for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients and education for families. Funds will also provide supplies for Alzheimer’s patients such as adult diapers and dietary supplements.

There’s no registration fee for the walk, but donations will be accepted. T-shirts and pet bandanas will be for sale with funds going to the project. Walkers can also purchase flags in memory of or in honor of loved ones. The memory flags will line the course of the walk across TU’s Main Campus.

Mary Ellen Payne, one of the event organizers, is the daughter of the late Dr. Jim Neill. For many years her mother, Betty Claire Neill, organized the walk since it began in 2000. Payne said that she is honored to have an event that continues to honor her father’s memory.

“It’s like the longest running tribute you could possibly have to someone,” said Mary Ellen Payne, daughter of the late Dr. Jim Neill. “He would be so flattered and so honored.”

Payne understands first-hand what families of Alzheimer’s patients go through.

“People’s first reaction to the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is often denial and embarrassment,” she said. “It is what it is. It is a disease. You have to remember that the actions, the things Alzheimer’s patients do and say are the disease and not your loved one.”

Payne recounts that the friends of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease often distance themselves.

“I don’t know whether they’re afraid of it or embarrassed or have a lack of understanding, but Alzheimer’s patients need their friends,” Payne said. “It’s tough. It’s very, very tough, but having close friends can help.”

In addition to the walk, Dr. Jim Neill Alzheimer’s Awareness Group will hold other events during the year including a movie screening and discussion along with other activities to promote awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.

“There are a lot of families whose members have Alzheimer’s and they don’t realize it or they don’t realize what’s available for help,” Payne said. “They need to be aware of what’s available to them in Thomas County.”

That information will be available at the walk on April 11. Registration begins at 9 a.m. in front of the Campus Center on TU’s Main Campus. The walk begins at 10 a.m. Along with informational booths, the TU Jazz Ensemble will provide musical entertainment.

“I would hope that participants will go away with a better understanding of how we need to support each other with this,” Payne said. “None of us is immune to Alzheimer’s. We need to be here for these families.”

For more information about the Dr. Jim Neill Alzheimer’s Walk, call (229) 740-1181.

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