January 13, 2022
Taylor Giunto says she knew her path since she was a little girl: She would work in senior living. It led her to California, to pursue her master’s degree in gerontology at the University of Southern California. At one of her classes, Loren Shook, CEO and co-founder of Silverado, came to speak. He described the provider’s values and approach: That life “doesn’t have to end with a dementia diagnosis,” and a commitment to evolving approaches, based on research and clinical outcomes.
“Immediately, I was thinking: I want to be a part of this,” Giunto says. She kept in touch, letting Silverado know she wanted to work with the company and how it aligned with her mission to change the way people view and treat Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
In this interview, she discusses that mission and some ways community leaders can help change stigma around cognitive disorders.
First step: Understanding
Stigma is something that’s very apparent, and it’s something we’re all trying to work toward combating. I think the first step in fighting the stigma associated with dementia is understanding the disease.
Only when we understand the disease, can we understand what someone is experiencing and can we really help.
My focus in getting my masters in gerontology was to understand the aging process. Also, at Silverado, they’re very focused on education—about understanding that contracting this disease doesn’t equate to the end of living your life. We have to push the boundaries of memory care and go beyond just caring for somebody’s needs to actually bring back quality of life for those affected.
Everyone is educated
One of the neat things that I discovered as I started working here is that regardless of position at Silverado, everybody becomes dementia-care certified. Whether you are a caregiver doing hands-on care or in the kitchen as a culinary aid, every single person is given the education and the skill set to understand disease.
Regardless of position, it’s a pretty lengthy and expansive orientation. A lot of people have worked in memory care before, but once they go through the orientation process, they know about the biological aspects, the psychological aspects, and the social aspects. There’s a full-picture understanding.
Residents make a difference
Our residents volunteer more than 20,000 hours annually for worthy causes. They’ve done a lot to give back to the community. At the end of the year, we’ll hold an award ceremony, with certificates that show the number of hours they’ve donated and volunteered.
It’s important to focus on what someone can do rather than what they can’t—that’s one of the ways we can change lives. We see miracles every day, just through encouraging self-expression and maximizing independence and choice. Life doesn’t stop when you have a diagnosis.
Choosing choice over fear
We have a term that we’ve coined: Dignity with risk. There is going to be some risk associated when you increase someone’s access to dignity. The practices at communities might be a little different, but here at Calabasas, we’re on five acres of land, and we can keep our patio doors open. Obviously, we’re doing rounds and checking on people, but residents can go take a walk, sit outside on the patio or in one of the courtyards and read a book. We have a team in place to support and help. But we don’t want fear or misunderstanding of the disease to stand in the way, when you can see that people can have choices and flourish.
Not long ago, during our morning meeting, a resident walked in and said, I just want to let you guys know that instead of the activity we have planned, I think it’s a really good day to go hiking. And we did exactly that. We got a group together and went down to the nearby trail and hiked. It breaks down the barriers of what people think people can do in memory care.
When a new family comes in, we help with the education process. All of our communities have a full-time social worker. That point person can be there to go through the move-in process with them and answer all the questions, and at the same time have the empathy to understand what they’re going through.
Especially during the pandemic, I’ve seen first-hand not just how detrimental isolation can be for someone living with a memory-impairing disease, because there’s a general lack of understanding about that. Families aren’t sure what their loved ones can do or can’t do. With education, we can show the families and residents that there’s so much life to be lived.
I think the more that we can spread awareness and educate—the more we’re able to break down those barriers as to what’s possible—the more we can continue together to innovate and create opportunities for those living with the disease.
Silverado’s Nexus program is a non-drug approach based on five “pillars” of life and health: physical exercise, stress reduction, cognitive exercise, support groups, and purposeful social activities. Academic research has validated that participants in Nexus at Silverado showed a statistically significant 60 percent improvement in cognition when compared to those without such treatment. The program served as a pilot for research by Mette Andresen, PhD, Professor, University College Absalon, Denmark, and national expert on dementia research, who has committed to implementing a brain-health program based on the pillars of Nexus in Danish long-term care facilities.