Joel Kroft, Executive Director of Memory Support Services, is celebrating 15 years of service with Country Meadows, 11 of them in his current position after previously serving as a trainer for memory care staff at our campuses. After college and graduate school, where he studied developmental psychology and adult development and aging, he cared for individuals with dementia in a variety of settings from Assisted Living to Adult Day Care. Joel joined Country Meadows in 2004.
How did you get involved in the field of memory care for seniors?
I got very interested in the aging process, especially the challenges of dementia, while in college, so I decided I wanted to work with older adults. My studies in college and graduate school helped me realize how dementia can rob people of memories and the ability to live their life as they want in their senior years. I find it both a challenge and a joy in working with them and helping make their lives better.
What has kept you working in an area that some people might consider discouraging at times?
I like working in a mission-driven environment with people in need of support each day. That springs, in part, from my personal experience. My grandmother had dementia, and I saw her life unraveling. Dementia robs people of their ability to live a full life long before they die. People with dementia have not always been treated well, and I like being part of a successful program that meets their daily needs on many levels. We have to include them in our lives and help them to live as fully as they can.
What should people know about Connections Memory Support Services at Country Meadows?
We focus on each individual resident. Our primary job is to care for people who are unable to care for themselves. But even more, we want to give them a reason to get up in the morning. They still have lives to be lived and relationships to enjoy. The heart of what we do for residents with memory loss here at Country Meadows Retirement Communities is to instill their days with purpose and meaning.
How do you oversee staff working in memory care at all the Country Meadows campuses?
At each location, we have great managers in place to oversee memory care. Each campus has a Connections Manager, who oversees staffing, training and family meetings. I visit all our campuses, helping the Connections teams to resolve challenging behaviors, training and supporting co-workers and ensuring our programs are of the highest quality. While staff training is a huge part of our success, some job requirements can’t be taught—for example, empathy, compassion and a sense of humor. We hire people with those traits, and they bring them to their role.
With baby boomers aging, is this a field where we will need more people working in the decade or so ahead?
Absolutely. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only one in the top 10 without a cure or treatment. The numbers are growing astoundingly—5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. By 2050, that could be as high as 14 million. With the baby boomer “tsunami,” we will have a lot more older people to care for, so there will be a demand for more trained staff to make a difference in their lives.
What qualifications do your co-workers have to work in memory care?
Our Connections staff cares exclusively for seniors with dementia. Some are LPNs, CNAs (certified nursing assistants) and medical assistants, all trained to understand and meet the needs of individuals with memory loss. Some co-workers are just coming into our field, drawn by their interest in helping and caring for others. And some of our dementia care staff are individuals who changed careers because they were looking for more meaning in their work. There’s a lot more to dementia care services than clinical care. Listening to people’s life experiences is human care. Memory support co-workers deal with the human issues of dignity, self-worth and purpose.
You wrote a book for children about dementia that has received a national award within the senior living industry. What prompted you to write The Unforgettable Adventures of Grandma’s Cape?
We have to change how people see those with dementia, and starting with kids makes sense. Kids are open and will listen and understand, even if it’s scary and painful for them. The book helps them understand that Grandma doesn’t love them less—she just sees the world differently now. With dementia, family relationships are about more than words making sense—these connections are deeper than that. Reaction to the book has been rewarding—it has led to a great outreach to schools, counselors and others who work with kids. We offer it at no cost to anyone who requests it.
What else would you like people to know about Connections Memory Support Services?
Some people have negative stereotypes of secure memory care neighborhoods. Those misconceptions are mostly out of date. People with dementia are still living, engaged in relationships and enjoying aspects of life. We invite people to visit Connections Memory Support Services at any of our campuses to see first-hand that they’re not places of sadness but rather places of love and life.