By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
One local program offers help for West Valley residents with dementia.
Jennifer Drago, Sun Health vice president for population health, led her agency to launch the Memory Care Navigator program in 2013 for locals with memory loss and the loved ones who care for them.
“We are aware that many people in the West Valley were experiencing memory loss that comes with dementia but some may not have received a formal diagnosis and treatment, and still others are struggling with managing daily tasks or care giving for someone with increasing memory loss symptoms. Whatever the issue, Sun Health wants to provide support to the client, family or caregiver to answer questions and connect them to available resources,” Ms. Drago stated by email.
The free, confidential program is available to those who qualify within the Sun Health catchment area, which includes the Sun Cities, Surprise, Youngtown and parts of Glendale and Peoria. Based on the results of research studies, it is likely that thousands of West Valley residents could use the help.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov, reported that as of 2013, as many as 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease. The number of those afflicted had jumped more than 50 percent since 2000 and the number is expected to nearly triple to 14 million by 2050, according to a 2014 study.
Though the prevalence overall has fallen in this century, dementia still affects 8.8 percent of those 65 or older, according to a national health and retirement study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in November 2016. At that rate, Sun City West alone is likely now home to more than 2,000 patients affected by dementia and memory loss.
Getting help starts with a phone call, said Marty Finley, a Sun Health navigator who has worked with more than 1,200 clients in the program since its inception nearly four years ago.
“Those in need can self-refer by calling 623-832-9300 or they may be referred by a physician, neighbor or social worker,” Ms. Finley said. “They will speak with one of our two navigators, who will take information and make an appointment to come to their home to see the whole picture the family is dealing with. We can suggest environmental changes, since we do a complete assessment of what their needs and challenges are, and then set up an individualized plan to address those needs.”
Once engaged, the memory care navigator can provide a comprehensive needs assessment and devise a personalized health care plan; collaborate with and communicate recommendations to patients’ physicians; make referrals to address other chronic and complicating medical conditions; educate patients and families about local clinical trials; and provide resources and link patients and their family members and caregivers to services, education and support groups in the area.
Other services are provided at the Sun Health Center for Health and Wellbeing, 14719 N.W. Grand Ave., Surprise, www.sunhealthwellbeing.org.
Sun Health does not accept insurance for the free program, which is entirely funded by the Sun Health Foundation. Though, participants with means may choose to donate, Ms. Finley said.
“It’s just a great service and there is no charge to the patient or family member,” Ms. Finley said. “They are encouraged to donate if they can, but they don’t have to be concerned about insurance because we don’t bill insurance. It’s a gift the Sun Health Foundation provides to the community.”
She said the free services often continue beyond the initial assessment to help patients and families adapt as the disease progresses.
“It can be an ongoing resource as the disease progresses and challenges and needs change over time,” Ms. Finley said. “People call back who we saw two or three years ago and they’re always welcome.”
For caregivers, who are often family members with no background or training in health care, it is important to take advantage of services readily available in the community to help them stay healthy, happy and informed while they care for patients in the home, she added.
“It’s critical, because caregivers are the ones who face the challenges of long-term care every day. It is really important they get help from someone else, be proactive and forward looking. If their health deteriorates, then the person with dementia is left alone. We’ve got to keep the caregiver healthy,” Ms. Finely said.
Sun Health hosts a caregiver support group, which meets 3 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays every month all year in the community education room in the rehab building at the Grandview Terrace Retirement Center, 14515 W. Granite Valley Drive. The program also offers referrals for additional education, resources and respite services for caregivers.
Ms. Drago said Sun Health hopes to expand the number of clients they serve, having recently added their second navigator to the program.
“We are excited that philanthropic support has allowed us to double the number of people that we are able to help going forward through the addition of a second memory care navigator,” she said.
Visit Sun Health for more information.