Sandi and Bob Johnson

New Road Map with Memory Care Navigator Program

Bob and Sandi Johnson met on a blind date and married four months later. Soon, the couple was settling into their new life, focused on work, family and the picturesque Wyoming property they called home.

That’s how it went for years. But life veered off course when Sandi began experiencing health problems, first diagnosed as lung disease and ultimately Alzheimer’s disease. By then, the couple was living in Arizona and Sandi’s primary care physician made a suggestion to help them on this new path: Sun Health’s Memory Care Navigator Program. The service is provided at no charge to clients through the generosity of Sun Health Foundation donors, and is supported by USAA, Sundt Foundation and the John F. Long Foundation.

The navigator program is designed to assist clients, family members and caregivers as they make their way through the maze of emotional, psychological and physical effects of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

The guidance is tailored to meet the needs of each client. For the Johnsons, that meant a wide range of assistance from program navigator Marty Finley, M.Ed. After an in-home assessment, she talked through everything from a respite program for Bob to gun safety in the home.

“I realize there’s no roadmap for each person that has dementia, but at the same time there’s a lot of common threads,” Bob said. “Marty was really helpful.”

The support and guidance from navigators like Marty help improve the lives of program clients in ways big and small, whether locating the right support group or having a caring shoulder to lean on in a difficult moment. Clients praise the program for all it offers at such critical times in their lives.

Living a full life

Married for 47 years, Bob and Sandi have enjoyed a full life together. Bob’s career centered on construction. Sandi, a cosmetologist, owned her own beauty salon and later worked in human resources. Raising their four kids kept the couple busy. The family’s postcard-perfect Wyoming property stretched for acres and included horses, two streams and a pond that Bob stocked with fish for the kids.

Shortly after retirement, Sandi began having health problems that doctors in Wyoming attributed to a lack of oxygen. Around that time, Bob also started noticing Sandi’s forgetfulness.

The treatment plan prescribed didn’t fully work so after snowbirding in Arizona for years, the couple moved to the Valley hoping that the lower elevation would ease Sandi’s health concerns.

Ultimately, doctors in Arizona diagnosed Sandi with Alzheimer’s disease and Sun Health entered the couple’s life.

With guidance from Memory Care Navigators, clients develop a plan of care for their specific needs. Clients also rely on navigators to serve as a liaison between them and families, physicians, and community services. Navigators make home visits and are available by phone.

Marty offered Bob and Sandi guidance about things like the trying to exercise together and keeping Sandy engaged mentally with puzzles. They discussed a memory loss support group, a respite program and an emergency plan. They talked through the importance of keeping guns in the home locked up.

“It’s an outlet to ask questions,” Bob said of the program.

The road ahead

Bob has taken over many of the couple’s day-to-day responsibilities, like paying bills, going grocery shopping and cooking meals. Sandi, who is 72, enjoys crossword and jigsaw puzzles and watching home improvement shows.

“She loves to watch her HGTV. The Property Brothers are her buddies,” Bob joked. They aren’t certain what lays ahead but they will face it together, Bob said. “When you marry a person, you give some vows. Sandi did a lot for me when I was working, she always had dinner on the table and clothes put away,” Bob said. “That’s just part of a commitment when you pair up with someone. And when you make that commitment you should carry through with it.”

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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