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As a leader in innovation and transformational leadership, Tara Krantzman has tremendous passion for and expertise in human services, with big dreams for the future of senior care. Now the Chief Operating Officer, Tara reflects on the experiences she’s had working at Oakwood Creative Care that have grown her devotion to the dementia community and the Members she’s met who encouraged her to embark on a journey dedicated to advocating for change on behalf of those in need.

Tara’s Oakwood Journey

Eleven years ago, I was introduced to dementia care through divine intervention. I had no preconceived notions that working with seniors, particularly those with dementia, would be my life’s career. At the time, I had never even known anyone with dementia. 

During the last semester of my undergraduate program, I accepted an internship at Oakwood Creative Care (formally Sirrine Adult Day Care). During my internship, I met Dr. Cliff Harris, the first person to teach me about dementia and how far a little compassion, love, and respect could go. 

He was a prestigious man in the Mesa community, who spent his life as a renowned physician and pioneer of “Smoke Free Mesa.” He didn’t see himself in the mirror as an elderly man with moderate stage Alzheimer’s Disease. He saw himself as a man who still had work to do and a story to tell. 

Dr. Harris didn’t have time to play bingo. He didn’t have time to color. He didn’t have time for silly sing-alongs. It was my job to keep him entertained and distracted from the outside world through bingo, coloring, and singalongs, but these things only made him more agitated. In my heart, I knew there was some more we could be doing for Dr. Harris, but I didn’t really know what that looked like.

He didn’t see himself in the mirror as an elderly man with moderate stage Alzheimer’s Disease. He saw himself as a man who still had work to do and a story to tell. 

Three months later, after my internship concluded, I was offered a position as a “Program Coordinator” for Sirrine under new leadership that would result in what is known today as Oakwood Creative Care. Still not knowing what I was doing, I took a leap of faith. I embarked on a journey of exploration, discovery, and research to become a dementia expert because, deep down in my heart, I knew that the Dr. Harris’ of the world needed something more. 

Next came Chris, the first person that I met in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. He was energetic, vibrant, eager to learn, and always “Happy.” He ignited something fierce in me. He taught me the importance of fighting back against this disease and just how little doctors were really doing to help people like him. He knew that he needed to be active and stimulate his mind because the drug Namenda, alone, wasn’t enough. 

Chris challenged me to challenge the status quo and paved the way for a new kind of engagement. We gave him saws and drills in woodworking classes. He created art masterpieces. We had drumming circles, jam sessions, dancing and choir practice (but if you ask him, there was never enough music). We implemented Zumba, tai chi, and chair yoga to promote strength and balance. Through it all, Oakwood Creative Care became Chris’ happy place – a place where he could thrive. 

 

He taught me the importance of fighting back against this disease and just how little doctors were really doing to help people like him.

As Chris progressed through the disease, he taught me that, even when the brain deteriorates, the creative center still exists. Chris nicknamed me “kid dynamite,” a name that would stick for years to come as Oakwood Creative Care evolved, embraced culture change, and changed the standard of engagement. 

In the first seven years of my career, members like Dr. Harris and Chris put a fire in my belly and gave me inspiration, advocacy, and hope to turn the senior care industry upside down and redefine adult day health services in the continuum of care.

But then dementia hit close to home after my “papa” was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It was then that dementia care took on a new meaning for me. Seniors deserve meaningful engagement, the same lifelong learning opportunities that you and I want, purpose and value in the community, and the opportunity to live their best life, regardless of a diagnosis.