The First Annual Practitioner Symposium on September 29th brought together Montessori professionals from around the world who have completed our Practitioner Certification Course. Since the first cohort was certified in 2016, there are now over 276 Certified Montessori for Aging and Dementia Practitioners around the world.
We had three keynote speakers present their innovative projects.
Carolyn Magnussen and Elizabeth Rydland shared how they are bringing Montessori to elders’ homes near Oslo, Norway through the development of sensory activity kits. These free kits are being developed for care partners to use with their loved ones living with dementia in the home setting. Carolyn and Elizabeth are in the process of developing over 300 home activity kits to help elders maintain skills such as reading, counting, and organizing, as well as provide sensory stimulation and spark conversations.
Fred Ellman demonstrated his Flying Compassion Garden, which is a miniature interactive meditation garden kit for people with dementia and their care partners. Fred's work brings the natural, calming connection between plant care and mindfulness meditation into people’s lives with the goal of easing anxiety and promoting a sense of well-being. He has developed his gardens to include both principles of Montessori and Spaced Retrieval beautifully with the goal of stimulating imagination, connection, and joy!
Henna Jalovaara, the founding member of Muisti Montessori, the Finnish Montessori for Dementia Association, spoke about her work as an OT in a non-profit care home in Helsinki, Finland that will be piloting Montessori in two of its eight households. Henna shared examples of the success and challenges she faces on a daily basis while implementing the Montessori approach in this setting. Henna inspired us with her lessons learned: the importance of training for staff, preparing the environment, and having a committed core team. She reminded us that this work is a marathon, not a race.
Engagement Award Finalists
Prior to the symposium, we accepted applications for our first Elder Engagement Award. Practitioners submitted descriptions of their innovative work, and we had the difficult task of choosing three to present during the symposium.
BethAnn Scruggs from Adult Enrichment Centers shared her experience of working with a member of her Adult Day Program, Renew. After first joining the center, this elder was often agitated or agitated others. As they got to know this gentleman, care partners discovered his love of writing poetry, so they created an opportunity for him to write and share his work with children at the nearby preschool. Care partners also found this elder enjoyed playing the guitar, so they scheduled regular concert times for him to perform. With these and other roles, BethAnn and her team are meeting the needs of this elder, who is now meaningfully engaged in his community.
Katherine Micha from United Methodist Homes described the transformation of a typical elder care community into a prepared environment that would “feel like home.” She and her team personalized room signage and used vinyl wraps for doors so they looked homelike instead of institutional. They enhanced common spaces with interactive murals and new engagement areas, such as a post office, bus stop, and laundry room. The results have been extraordinary – with elders experiencing increased engagement and fulfilment.
Kathy Werner from Seven Bends Studio told us about her work with a middle-aged woman in the early stages of dementia. Still living at home and working a full-time job, Kathy’s client was struggling to keep up with regular daily tasks, such as paying bills, feeling the cat, and keeping track of work tasks. Kathy helped her client create dedicated spaces for bill paying and pet care, wrote step-by-step procedures for each task, and created visual supports to help her complete these tasks independently. Kathy’s client reports that she feels hopeful for the first time in years that she can continue to live independently for some time.
We thank all of our presenters and practitioners who participated in this event. We were inspired by the beauty, excitement, challenges, imagination and dedication of every Practitioner who attended.
Elder Engagement Award Winner – Katherine Micha
It began as a dream. A dream to see elders at United Methodist Homes – Elizabeth Church Manor & Saint Louise Manor, in New York, be able to interact, have purpose, and thrive in their “home.” Katherine, who is an Activities Director and Volunteer Coordinator says that she likes to overdo when she imagines and puts ideas together. Well, she certainly did that. She has created not only wonderful areas of engagement and purpose for elders, but also has received cooperation from her care community leadership team and other departments to change a culture. This is what Montessori for Aging and Dementia is all about! Katherine's description of what she spearheaded and the challenges she overcame clearly shows her understanding of the Montessori philosophies.
As Katherine took us through the care community using stories and photos, we saw how her ideas came to life and the elders were able to flourish and continue being mentally and physically active in the ways they each could be. The environment that Katherine and her team have created (and continue to create) has reduced responsive behaviors, decreased falls, improved elder morale and cascaded into more and more opportunities for elders within the community.
Here are some photos that Katherine shared during her presentation at the symposium. It is inspiring to see how simple changes to the environment can make such a powerful impact on the lives of elders.