The “prepared environment” is designed to facilitate independence and exploration. When designing a Montessori environment for older adults, it can be hard to know where to start. Keep these simple tips in mind:
The prepared environment for older adults is beautiful and inviting. Those living in the care community can help choose or donate beautiful pieces of art to display; and they can be changed every month or so to keep the areas full of interest. Interactive displays, such as a suitcase full of travel souvenirs, can be used to invite exploration and conversation. Bring nature inside as much as possible and fill the area with plants for which the elders can care.
A prepared environment for older adults facilitates freedom of movement and activity. Provide snacks and beverages in a manner that encourages individuals to help themselves. Materials are available such as cleaning supplies, watering cans, and unfolded laundry, so that elders change choose to contribute in meaningful ways to the community. Elders have access to the outdoors in order to enjoy the beauty of nature and get exercise.
A prepared environment for older adults is rich with opportunities for meaningful engagement and socialization. Hands-on materials tailored to elders’ hobbies and interests are available 24 hours as a day. Materials are displayed attractively on open shelves that are wheelchair accessible. Visual cues to invite individuals to use the materials such as, “Please shine the shoes” or “Please help yourself to a drink.”
A prepared environment for older adults is organized, orderly, and clean. The furniture must be arranged to allow adequate space for movement, carrying of materials, and placing it on tables. The environment is uncluttered. There should not be any staff signs, supplies, materials, or equipment visible. Only material that supports the person’s social, emotional, cognitive or spiritual needs is in environment.
A prepared environment for older adults incorporates visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory cues to support memory impairment. For example, wayfinding cues such as high contrast signage and landmarks are provided for all destinations. Bedrooms are marked with the person’s name in large print and a large photo of the individual that he or she recognizes. All members of the community should wear easy to read, high contrast name badges. Staff, volunteers and elders should have the same name badge. Offer them to family who visit often as well.
With some simple, inexpensive modifications, any environment can be modified to support elders’ independence, freedom, choice, and interests.