Silverado’s Nexus Takes Memory Care to the Next Level

Nexus Teacher with Child

Visit any one of Silverado’s 31 memory-care communities and you might see children playing outside, residents dining with family members, and other residents walking dogs, playing ping pong, practicing yoga or taking a Spanish class. It’s all part of Silverado’s goal to enrich the lives of its residents and give them and their families opportunities for more precious, fulfilling moments together.

A key component of Silverado’s approach is Nexus, a 20-hour-a-week program created to help residents in the early stages of dementia maintain and build cognitive ability. The program is based on mounting evidence that we can do things to stem the progression and change the pathologies of many common dementias. Nexus comprises six pillars of activities that residents engage in.

I recently spoke with one of Nexus’s lead developers, Kim Butrum, Silverado’s senior vice president of clinical services, about Nexus and its six pillars.

“Nexus comes from Latin, meaning ‘connections,’” she explained. “We refer to is as Nexus, building connections through science and social engagement. The good part is the pillars of Nexus are good for all of us. They’re good for us in our middle ages. They’re good for us throughout the course of our lives.”

The Six Pillars are:

 Purposeful Social Activities

 Physical Activity

 Stress Reduction

 Cognitively Stimulating Activities

 Support Groups

 Digital Brain Fitness

On the topic of purposeful social activities, Butrum said there is mounting evidence that isolation is a bad thing.

“We have story after story of people who come into our community at one level, and with purposeful social activity, physical activity and better nutrition, they thrive,” she said. “It’s amazing how many stories I have of families saying, ‘I couldn’t believe that mum would be learning new things, that she would be going to a standard class and actually learning things.’”

Butrum is particularly effusive about the physical activity pillar.

“I think physical activity is the most exciting thing, in that you can actually see the growth [in the part of the brain] where Alzheimer’s starts,” she said. “Moderate activity, I try to do it daily to actually grow brain. The bigger the brain you have, the more neurons you can lose with aging and neurodegenerative disease and not seem impaired.”

Stress reduction (the third pillar) is important, too, she said, because research shows that stress shrinks the part of the brain (the hippocampus) where Alzheimer’s disease starts. Meditation and guided relaxation exercises, on the other hand, activate the hippocampus. People who engage in mindful-based stress reduction exercises -- even those with the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease or people with mild cognitive impairment -- have less brain atrophy than those who do not participate in these practices.

Cognitively stimulating activities (fourth pillar) include improvisational theater, creative story-telling, chess, and writing clubs. Some cognitive activities work to reinforce remaining cognitive skills. For instance:

“We have residents in memory care who used to be teachers who are very excited now because they’re teaching Spanish to other residents and to children of some of our associates,” Butrum said. “It hits two pillars of Nexus: it helps you feel purpose because you’re making a difference and helping others, and in addition, it’s cognitively stimulating and reinforcing the cognitive skills that remain.”

According to Burtum, some of Silverado’s residents go to the humane society and teach the dogs not to bark when people walk by their cage.

“Some of our residents leave and to out to different activities,” Butrum said. “Continuing to stay involved in your [outside] community, even when you are in memory care, that, from Silverado’s standpoint, is helping reduce the stigma of memory care.”

To learn more about the Nexus program, click here.

To hear my full interview with Kim Butrum, click here.