Lorraine R.

Facing the road ahead with Memory Care Navigator program

When Lorraine thinks back to the way her mother used to be, she remembers a woman who always took charge, ran the household, took pride in what she wore and enjoyed plenty of laughs with her husband of 65 years.

Then dementia started to take hold of her life and nothing was the same. Her mother lost the ability to care for the house, her appearance changed and she became increasingly agitated.

“She recognized it about herself,” Lorraine said. “She would say, ‘I can’t remember, I can’t remember, I can’t remember.’ It was hard.”

At the same time, Lorraine was dealing with her own health issues. A difficult family situation was becoming almost impossible.

But a referral to Sun Health’s Memory Care Navigator program, and navigator Marty Finley, allowed Lorraine and her mother to face the road ahead.

“I would not have survived this if I did not have Marty,” Lorraine said. “She was the utmost professional. My mother was her first priority. Every recommendation she made was in my mother’s interest.”

“She was so insightful and helpful and calming,” she said. “It just calmed me down.”

The Memory Care Navigator program is designed for families just like Lorraine’s, who have a wide range of needs. Navigators assist clients, family members and caregivers as they manage emotional, psychological and physical effects of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

With guidance from navigators, clients develop a plan of care tailored to their needs. Navigators make home visits and are available by phone.

Clients praise navigators like Marty for providing connections, making recommendations and, when needed, offering a caring shoulder to lean on at such critical times in their lives.

A new chapter

Lorraine’s parents retired to Arizona, after working and raising a family in New Jersey.

“They took to retirement wonderfully,” she said. “They had a pool. They played poker continuously, and bingo. My uncle had a motor home and they traveled to every state and went all over sightseeing, doing everything they never had a chance to do with two kids, working all the time.”

But life took a difficult turn when Lorraine’s brother died unexpectedly, and Lorraine began having health problems. “That’s when things started to go downhill,” she said.

“My mother was always the take charge person; my dad was always the funny person…. She was always the one in charge. She cleaned and cooked and did what she needed to do,” Lorraine said. “And then things started to slack off. You could notice that she wasn’t caring about cooking anymore. She didn’t dress like she did before. She was always very impeccable. The dress matched the shoes.”

“Everything started to bother her. She started yelling at dad when they used to laugh all the time,” she said.

With her memory failing, she began covering the counter tops with sticky notes. Lorraine could see the notes multiply and her mother’s handwriting becoming smaller and smaller.

Her mother was also at risk of hurting herself or others. She would leave food on the stovetop and then walk away, forgetting that she was cooking. Once when driving, she hit another car.

As Lorraine’s mother began declining, her father became ill too. Lorraine was juggling caregiving while trying to manage her own health.

The family was at a breaking point.

A lifeline for the family

During a doctor’s visit, a nurse suggested that Lorraine contact the Memory Care Navigator program about her mother. Marty, a longtime navigator with the program, became a lifeline.

She started with an in-home visit, where the family addressed a range of issues: organizing current medications and discarding old ones, a safety assessment to remove trip hazards, scheduling a hearing test and more.

“Marty was a godsend to me from day one,” Lorraine said.

During the visit, Lorraine’s mother took notes that she referred to as needed. That helped ease arguments between mother and daughter because the advice and suggestions were coming from Marty.

“Marty tried to instill in her that she has to have her daughter help,” Lorraine said. “That part broke the ice…she would allow me to help with things.”

Marty followed up often with phone calls, and Lorraine always felt comfortable reaching out for guidance.

“I would say to Marty, ‘I don’t know what to do. I can’t help someone who doesn’t want my help.’,” Lorraine said. “I could rely on her (Marty) every time.”

“She would talk me down, tell me how to address her, how to change the subject to try to calm her down,” Lorraine said.

When Lorraine’s mother fell, Marty came through once again with a resource who could help her find an assisted living facility on short notice. Her mother now lives just a few miles away and is thriving – and safe – at her new home.

As her mother’s condition progresses, Lorraine is more and more grateful for the Memory Care Navigator program. The program is supported by generous donations to the Sun Health Foundation.

“Marty taught me not to feel bad. You feel like you’re not doing enough. You want everything in their final years to go smooth,” Lorraine said. “I thought I wasn’t doing it. She taught me that you can’t look at it that way. It’s the disease.”

She highly recommends the program to other families in need, saying, “Throw away all your fears and make the phone call.”

About Memory Care Navigator

Sun Health’s Memory Care Navigator program can help those with memory loss and their family members and friends to identify support, services and resources that may be helpful in navigating the dementia journey. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call (623) 471-9300, or visit SunHealth.org/memorycare.

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