Alzheimer’s San Diego raises more than $400,000 during annual fundraiser walk

People participate in non-profit Alzheimer’s San Diego’s annual walk
About 1,000 people participate in non-profit Alzheimer’s San Diego’s annual walk to support San Diegans living with dementia and their caregivers on Saturday at Balboa Park.
(Kristian Carreon/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Larry Hamon had only been retired for three months when his wife began having trouble remembering words.

The 76-year-old Poway resident cared for Sally for six years as her memory loss gradually progressed from aphasia to a full diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. In the end, her decline was steep, but throughout Hamon’s caregiving journey, the Alzheimer’s San Diego men’s support group he now leads helped him navigate the emotional, often turbulent, final months.

“Guys want to fix things, want to be in charge, and with this disease you’re not in charge and you can’t fix this,” Hamon said. “You can just adjust to whatever reality the person is in, and they’re constantly devolving as brain cells die, as their behavior and abilities change.”

a group of people walk during a fundraiser event outdoors
Larry Hamon, center wearing dark blue, participates in Alzheimer’s San Diego’s annual walk to support San Diegans living with dementia and their caregivers on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Balboa Park. Hamon’s wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and passed way in 2015. The 76-year-old’s team, The Men Remember, raised over $40,000 for the event.
(Kristian Carreon / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

On Saturday, Hamon and The Men Remember fundraising team he co-captains walked with nearly 1,000 people in Balboa Park to raise money for Alzheimer’s San Diego. Together with their families, the group raised $40,565 to benefit the local nonprofit, making them the top-earning team during this year’s walk.

Alzheimer’s San Diego has raised more than $412,709 through the walk to fund its free support and educational programs for those living with dementia and their family caregivers.

The walk was the first in-person event the organization has held since the pandemic began in 2020. Hundreds more registered to walk virtually from home.

Although she said it felt a little strange to have a large, outdoor event after so many months apart, president and CEO Eugenia Welch said it was great to see so many people joining together in support of one another during Saturday’s walk.

“When somebody has Alzheimer’s or dementia, the family might be uncomfortable going to a restaurant or other places because they worry about how the person with dementia might be received,” Welch said. “But here, there’s none of that (judgment). You don’t have to worry about that at all.”

A number of participants at San Diego’s Alzheimer’s annual walk wore butterfly-themed garments
A number of participants at San Diego’s Alzheimer’s annual walk wore butterfly-themed garments to symbolize the hope that one day there will be a cure for dementia.
(Kristian Carreon/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

While the nonprofit has held all of its educational classes and programs virtually over the past year and a half, it plans to start slowly rolling out some in-person, outdoor events next month.

The funds from this drive are rolling in at an important time for Alzheimer’s San Diego, as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to make providing services more complex. Adding to its immediate need, Welch said, is the search for a new location to move into next spring following a recently announced sale of the building in Clairemont in which the nonprofit currently rents space.

The number of people living with dementia continues to grow, even more rapidly than previously expected.

In San Diego County, there are nearly 100,000 seniors living with various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, according to this year’s report from The Alzheimer’s Project, a county health initiative. That exceeds the previous estimate of 94,000 diagnoses officials had predicted the county would reach nearly a decade from now.

Recent efforts in the county have stressed the importance of early diagnosis for this incurable ailment, as many Alzheimer’s therapies and treatments are most effective when initial symptoms set in. Experts say this is especially important for people of color, who are less likely to be diagnosed or have adequate access to dementia healthcare.

One of Saturday’s walkers at Balboa Park was Naomi Rogers-Bea, who runs an Alzheimer’s support group through the Bayview Baptist Church in Encanto, which has a predominantly Black parish. Inspired by friends and family members who have lived with dementia, she stressed the importance of having symptoms diagnosed early.

“There’s a lot of information that we try to distribute out in the community to help people to not ignore things that they forget,” Rogers-Bea said.

Alzheimer’s San Diego is just one of two nonprofits in the county supporting the dementia community, both of which held their annual walks this month. Last Saturday, the Alzheimer’s Association San Diego and Imperial County chapter held its walk, raising $285,224 through a similar in-person/virtual hybrid event.