Montessori Mornings For Memory Care

You are far more likely to hear the word Montessori mentioned in a PTA meeting than an assisted living community like Sonata, but one innovative Serenades Memory Care community has discovered a new purpose for the Montessori method.

The Montessori method of teaching is far from a new idea, dating back to the early 1900s when Dr. Maria Montessori first traveled to the U.S. from Italy to share her groundbreaking work. According to the American Montessori Society, Dr. Montessori believed engaging in work such as farming would help children develop real-world skills, faster. She believed children would learn resilience by nurturing their individual abilities and feeding their curiosity, free from excessive oversight or intervention from parents and teachers.

It only took 100 more years to discover the key principles of a Montessori education have applications beyond the classroom, and that the concepts of freedom, independence, and work—each foundational to Montessori, have relevance to older adults on the opposite end of the age continuum.

As children, we eagerly look for ways to be independent and self-sufficient human beings. Later in life, and especially among seniors living with memory loss – we look for ways to hold on to it. In other words, Montessori is just as useful to seniors struggling to retain independence as it is to their grandchildren trying to find it.

The bottom line? Independence, freedom, and work, as it turns out, go hand-in-hand with well-being no matter how old you are.

Montessori and The Memory Care Community

In practice, a Montessori education is rooted on the belief that each child is a unique individual, therefore teaching should be tailored to those unique needs to tap into their true potential.

Coincidentally, many of these same tenants are applicable in a long-term care setting, particularly memory care communities. That’s because Alzheimer’s disease progresses differently in everyone. No two people will experience dementia in the same way. For this reason, a more personal, or person-directed approach to care, is often regarded as more effective and beneficial than a one-size-fits-all approach.

The Montessori method encourages children to learn at their own pace. Learning is achieved naturally through repetition, self-realization, and feelings of success. This approach is useful in long-term care settings, too, but for slightly different reasons.

Since the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and GEM states vary from person to person, people with Alzheimer’s also benefit from activities tailored to their preferences and customized for their abilities. In other words, the same activity offered to all residents in a memory care community doesn’t work as well as providing individualized activities and tasks.

Montessori Mornings at Serenades

Serenades at West Orange recognized the universal advantages of Montessori methods in both the classroom and long-term care setting and discovered an opportunity to develop a program that offers more individualized support to its residents with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

A natural extension of the traditional Montessori approach, Montessori Mornings at Serenades West Orange embraces the concepts of Montessori in an entirely new and unique setting: an assisted living memory care community.

Freedom of Choice and Abilities

Whether classroom or senior care community, the building blocks of Montessori have stood the test of time by embracing three key concepts. These include an environment that fully supports and promotes freedom, independence, and work.

  • Freedom to make choices and learn at one’s own pace
  • Independence to nurture and maintain the essential “sense of self”
  • Work to retain one’s attention and stay motivated

According to the Montessori method, learning should be self-directed. The Montessori approach allows children to make more decisions and choices than they would in a traditional educational setting. More autonomy is permitted to allow children to discover their own potential. Teachers guide children to engage in self-directed activities in hopes it will motivate them more.

Similarly, freedom is emphasized at Montessori Mornings at Serenades. Caregivers provide the tools necessary for residents to engage in various tasks every morning, but do not do the tasks for them. It’s the act of “doing with,” rather than “doing for,” that is important.

Allowing residents the freedom to make decisions helps those with cognitive decline hang on to the very human need to make choices and stay in control of one’s life, even as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. It’s also proven to reduce the unwanted symptoms and behaviors of dementia such as anxiety and agitation.

Independence and Self-Esteem

Another tenant central to Montessori is the belief that children should be given space to learn independently without excessive oversight from teachers. The approach is meant to nurture a child’s natural passion for exploration, curiosity, and self-discovery.

Montessori methods nurture independence in children, which means learning is individualized and unique for each child. For example, “self-correcting” toys such as cylinders and puzzles allow children to learn through trial and error rather than parent or teacher correction, which may harm self-esteem.

Maintaining dignity and self-esteem through independent tasks is vitally important to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, too. Montessori Mornings at Serenades, for example, assigns morning tasks to residents as a means to prolong independence in the individual while helping them maintain the essential “sense of self” that builds confidence.

Work and Well-Being

According to Montessori, work brings gratification by instilling purpose. This belief aligns perfectly with the programming goals of a memory care community, which aims to improve well-being and quality of life in people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Ultimately, activities give residents with memory challenges more purpose, which enhances well-being.

In short, happiness is derived in part by staying busy doing something you love.

Rather than the traditional definition of “work,” in a Montessori Center, work reflects self-directed activities that children can perform independently. The belief is that when children choose the work they want to do, they are more likely to pay attention and stay motivated. Similarly, work-like tasks that memory care residents can perform independently are central to the Montessori Mornings program at Serenades.

“Our goal is to continuously help keep our minds busy to promote slowing cognitive decline,” said Kristin Collazo, LPN, CDP and Executive Director of Serenades West Orange.  Activities are also driven by individual resident preferences. A former homemaker might find joy in folding laundry or arranging flowers while others may enjoy building with LEGO bricks or painting a flowerpot.”

Montessori Mornings guides residents with memory challenges to engage in various tasks based on their unique abilities while providing the appropriate level of support. Whether it be assisting with setting the table for dinner, folding napkins, or clearing dishes, the usefulness of the tasks and activities give residents a sense of purpose and improve self-confidence.

Managing Alzheimer’s Symptoms with Montessori

The unwanted symptoms and behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are also improved through the Montessori Mornings program at Serenades.

“When a resident is agitated, it helps them relax and stay clam by staying busy with a task and preventing boredom,” said Kristin.

Personalized care at Serenades Memory Care treats the individual, not the disease, because the disease is never the same in two people. For example, new residents at Serenades are given a Life Story box and families are asked to fill them with personal items that are meaningful to the person with dementia. Families love providing items for the box and collaborating with caregivers at Serenades. This helps caregivers and activity directors know what types of tasks are best suited to the individual on Montessori Mornings.

Whether in an academic or care setting, a developing child or a senior with dementia, the benefits of treating the individual based on where they are in the learning stages or disease stages are universally shared.

To learn more about person-directed care at Serenades, schedule a visit to a community near you.

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