Cole Smith’s passion for working with individuals living with dementia began at an early age. Smith has used that spark to fuel his career and now serves as Brightview Senior Living’s Corporate Director of Dementia Care.
Smith grew up in Georgia, and when he was eight years old, he started volunteering in a skilled nursing facility. “I was an awkward kid, so I was king for a day when I went to the nursing home on the weekends,” Smith said. “If I wanted to talk or play games, the seniors were happy to see me and indulge me. It really sparked my passion.”
Smith didn’t understand dementia at that young age, but he realized that some seniors behaved and communicated differently. Those days spent volunteering and the observations he made stuck with him throughout his career. Smith worked as a Respiratory Therapist in several different clinical settings, and he loved serving the aging population the most. When he started working for PruittHealth as a Corporate Respiratory Education Consultant, he started spending time in long-term care communities.
“The first time I stepped on the dementia neighborhood, I knew that was where I wanted to be,” Smith said. His passion for working with individuals living with dementia stems from the connections he makes with them. “They are a reflection of the energy we bring to them,” he said. “They can make our day when we make their day.”
After earning his Masters in Gerontology, Smith worked as the National Director of Memory Care Programming for Discovery Health before coming to Brightview. “The culture and people from Brightview drew me in,” he said. “From the first conversation, I was hooked. I found that every person shares that same passion and love from associates and residents.”
As the Corporate Director of Dementia Care, Smith oversees every Brightview community’s Wellspring Village. These neighborhoods are designed to feel like home and be intuitive, Smith said. Residents are free to wander in the kitchen, common areas, and outdoors in this secure environment. There are also smaller staffing ratios to ensure more personalized care. Finally, the three tiers of training Brightview provides for its associates make the Wellspring Village model successful.
Another aspect of Smith’s role is supporting and educating families dealing with a dementia diagnosis. He is adamant that people living with dementia can still engage in purposeful living. “People think that once a loved one gets a dementia diagnosis, they are invalid or incapable of taking care of themselves,” he said. “My job is to accommodate for the changes they are experiencing and help them live a rich, full life.”
His advice for those affected by dementia is to meet your loved one where they are that day. If your loved one is upset or behaving differently, he recommends validating and working through their feelings first and guiding your loved one to a more positive place. “We teach families that although your relationship changes, it is still meaningful, just different,” Smith said.
Outside of work, Smith enjoys running and artistic crafts like crocheting and painting. He also serves as a house parent at a kid’s bereavement camp, volunteer end-of-life doula, and counselor for a crisis text line.
Brightview Senior Living builds, owns, and operates award-winning vibrant senior living communities in eight states along the East Coast: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia. We offer senior Independent Living, Assisted Living, Enhanced Care, and Wellspring Village®, a specialized neighborhood for people living with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Schedule a personal visit to experience our communities firsthand.