One way to give people with dementia a chance to lead fuller lives

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Jennifer Brush
Jennifer Brush

With the number of people in whom dementia is diagnosed growing at alarming rates, the need for effective memory care programs is more important than ever. But what sets one memory care program apart from another? How can we truly improve quality of life for people living with dementia?

How can a memory care program create more life participation for the older adults we serve?

Montessori for Aging and Dementia is an international program that combines dementia care best practices with a Montessori philosophy. It's popular because this approach enhances independence and quality of life for people living with dementia by creating an environment in which they can succeed. The Association Montessori International has developed trainer certification requirements, a two-day introductory workshop, a practitioner certification process and standards and quality indicators for care communities that wish to use this approach. 

Montessori for Aging and Dementia is a philosophy of life that focuses on engaging the older adult in an environment that is adapted to support memory loss and sensory impairment and facilitate independence. As a result, older adults are empowered to care for themselves and others, make contributions to their community and engage in meaningful activities.

Following this philosophy, roles and routines are developed for each individual that are meaningful to that person — living everyone the opportunity to enjoy an enriched life full of possibilities, not limitations. Individuals living in a Montessori community do as much for themselves and others as possible, rather than having things done to them or for them.

A person with dementia still has the same needs as everyone else. This person wants to socialize, express desires, participate in hobbies, interact with family, be included in activities, teach and learn, and enjoy being asked for advice. This person has the same desire to contribute to the household or the community. The need to have purpose in one's life and to be productive doesn't end once someone receives a diagnosis of dementia.

Our role caring for older adults should be to serve as a guide to help our elders to be able to engage in all of the things they love to the very best of their abilities. The Montessori philosophy is one way of achieving that active participation in life.

The Montessori roles and activities give individuals an opportunity to:

  • Care for the environment by cleaning, washing, dusting, tidying, serving, folding, weeding, raking, planting, etc., just as they did in the past in their own homes. When engaging in and retaining previous roles, individuals enhance self-esteem and increase independence and self-reliance.
  • Care for oneself by bathing and dressing in a positive way, which increases self-respect and dignity. Many of us just simply feel better when we are clean and know we look nice.
  • Care for others within the family or community. Individuals have an opportunity to help others who may not be able to complete a task on their own due to cognitive, physical or sensory impairment. For example, one may read to another who has vision impairment.
  • Be hospitable and participate in social interactions. Entertaining guests, pouring tea for a friend and holding celebrations are life roles that are important to maintain.
  • Work. When we meet someone new, we often ask, “What do you do?” Many of us describe ourselves by the work we do, whether that may be working as a professional outside of the home or as a homemaker or parent or care partner. Meaningful work gives our lives purpose.

Clark Retirement Community in Grand Rapids, MI, is in the process of setting up a model Montessori program in its assisted living area. Community residents participate in a variety of roles, routines and fun activities that have increased their engagement in life, such as helping themselves to snacks, setting and clearing tables, flower-arranging, dusting and sweeping, folding laundry, creating art, reading to one another, etc. Staff participate in ongoing education, and five staff members are working on obtaining their AMI practitioner certificates in Montessori for Aging and Dementia.

Memory care programs could benefit greatly from creating a Montessori environment that supports the individual's roles and activities by placing needed memory, visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory cues in the environment. When creating opportunities to practice life roles, routines and activities, remember that this should permeate throughout the entire community. It includes the routines of the community as well as the physical space and behaviors and attitudes of staff and family. 

Jennifer Brush, MA, CCC/SLP, is an award-winning dementia educator, the author of five books about dementia and a consultant with 25 years of experience in the industry. She serves on the Association Montessori International Advisory Board for Montessori for Aging and Dementia and as of the writing of this column, is the only AIM-certified educator teaching this program in the United States. You can learn more about Brush and the program at www.BrushDevelopment.com.

McKnight's Senior Living welcomes guest columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

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