A First-Hand Look at the Joys and Demands Of Montessori Programming

A First-Hand Look at the Joys and Demands Of Montessori Programming


By Amber Patton, CDAL

Residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia-related diseases are ever-changing: Who they are one day can change drastically the next day. Actually, who they are in one minute can change drastically in the next minute. That is why I have found Montessori based dementia programming to be so effective with memory care residents. This programming is tailored to each individual and their needs and wants. It gives residents purpose and a sense of belonging, each and every day.

When a new resident moves in, we find out as much as we can about them. We learn about who they were as children, their hobbies, how many siblings they had, what their parents’ occupations were, what their home and school was like growing up, and their favorite childhood food or pet.

Meeting people where they are
This assists greatly on days when a resident believes she is still that eight-year-old girl who fell at the playground and needs her mom to come kiss her knee. Telling her that her mom passed away 30 years prior may confuse her and cause more anxiety—nine times out of ten you can’t convince her of this truth, no matter how hard you try.

However, telling her that her mom is working an extra shift at the button factory and will be home later, and that her mom wants her to stay with me until she gets home, gives that resident a sense of peace and contentment.

I’ve found this approach gives purpose to daily programming as well. When we learn that a majority of our residents were homemakers and filled their days with cooking, cleaning, laundry, and raising children, we find that the best work stations that we can put in our community are those with laundry folding, mops and brooms, and a nursery with lifelike baby dolls to be rocked and swaddled.

Creating moments of joy
As our residents live out different eras of their lives, we meet them where they are and make sure they feel secure in their purpose. We have seen the heartbreak that comes when a resident no longer recognizes her adult daughter. But we see the joy that comes as the resident shows off her “baby” to that adult daughter and her daughter realizes that her mother does in fact love and remember her; she just believes that the baby doll she is holding is her daughter. Creating those moments is what a memory care neighborhood is all about.

At Five Star Senior Living, our memory care neighborhoods and programming are called “Bridge to Rediscovery.” Our focus is to bridge residents’ past experiences and memories to who they are today. As we help residents discover their purpose daily, we find they are less confused, have fewer challenging behaviors, and they are generally happier. We help them be who they need to be each day. Whether they are living their best life as an eight-year-old, a 30-year-old, or a 90-year-old, we meet residents where they are and help give them purpose for that day.

A capacity for change
Memory care requires a staff that is willing and able to adapt daily to the needs of our residents. It isn’t always easy deciphering who a resident is at any given time. Willingness among staff to learn as much as possible about a resident is the key to success with Montessori-based programming.

We have learned that not all staff is
able to adapt to our ever-changing residents, and that is OK. We seek those who are compassionate to the needs of our residents and in tune with their daily changes.
Sometimes, the rapport between a resident and a direct caregiver or other staff member changes over time. Each of us has to be willing to walk into the room with one of our favorite residents and know that there is a possibility that they no longer feel for you the way they once did.

Our residents’ moods can change like the wind. Our staff members can weather those changes and take them in stride. It takes a very special person to work with residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and I’m blessed to be working with some of the best.

For more information on Montessori-based dementia programming and Five Star’s Bridge to Recovery program, visit fivestarseniorliving.com/resources/bridge-to-rediscovery and the American Montessori Internationale at montessoridementia.org.