Montessori-Based Dementia Programming

Families of patients with Alzheimer’s and other memory conditions need to know that their loved ones are valued and involved in the world, even though they may be experiencing diminished functioning in some areas of their lives. Heartfields Assisted Living in Easton is reimagining Alzheimer’s and Memory Care with its Bridge to Rediscovery Memory Care neighborhoods and communities. The Montessori-based Dementia Programming creates an environment where residents feel valued, secure and involved in the world around them. Residents experience success by focusing on the strengths and abilities they have now.

Melissa Boudrie (left), Director of Sales and Marketing at Heartfields, and Sallie Twinam, RN, Director of Bridge to Rediscovery at Heartfields, meet together in the Bridge to Rediscovery Memory Care neighborhood at Heartfields.

For those of who may have had children in Montessori programs, the approach is very similar, focusing on the individual and personalized activities, engagement with the environment, and celebrating self-esteem. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was the first female physician in Italy. She developed innovative educational programs whose principles were based on the abilities of the children, allowing them to work at their own pace while receiving positive feedback. These principles are now being applied to patients with Alzheimer’s and other memory conditions.

According to Melissa Boudrie, Director of Sales and Marketing for Heartfields, “We are helping patients rediscover cognitive skills and abilities in small ‘neighborhoods’ where they feel safe and secure. They get to know other residents in their neighborhood, a nurturing environment where they can be active.”

In the Bridge to Rediscovery Memory Care neighborhoods, staff at Heartfields learns about their residents, including their careers, their hobbies, their interests and the important people in their lives. These details help the staff to create a lifestyle where each resident can rediscover joy and meaning in life. There is structure, routine and repetition. The program relies on programs rather than medications when dealing with certain behaviors.

Activity stations throughout each community help residents engage in activities based on the comprehensive life assessment that is done upon their arrival. These stations include recreating a desk and chair for the resident who may have worked in an office most of his or her life. Other activity stations include vanities with jewelry and hats which the residents can try on, cribs with baby dolls for residents who may have been mothers in their lifetime, replicas of workbenches for men who may have had hobbies such as woodworking, gardening benches where pots can be repotted for the gardener, a post office box where residents can get their mail, and even a laundry room where towels and linens can be folded.

According to Melissa, “Each resident has a part to play and feels useful while doing these activities which fosters a sense of worthiness.”

According to Melissa, it can be frustrating for residents who are experiencing Alzheimer’s or memory conditions to be in a large environment where they can’t do what they used to do. By creating a smaller environment, based on Montessori traditions, such as eliminating distractions such as clutter and noise, it can be less frustrating for the resident. In addition to activity stations, residents re-learn activities related to their needs in daily living. This may include re-learning to brush their teeth or setting the table with the right utensils. Staff respectfully engages residents to re-learn these skills.

Sharon Caldwell, a Care Manager at Heartfields for 17 years, comments, “Families like the atmosphere and how we relate to the residents. With the small size of the neighborhoods, I can work with a small group of residents at the same time.”

As one tours the neighborhood, each resident room is marked by a memory box which has been created with family members and includes items that speak to the resident’s life, tactile and visual cues which can prompt conversations and discussions with each resident.

Sallie Twinam, RN, Director of Bridge to Rediscovery at Heartfields, comments, “We are a family here. We want it to feel like a home to our residents. While they recognize that they are no longer in their homes, we try and help them figure out what ‘home’ is when they start to feel overwhelmed. The memory boxes, aromatherapy and music can help take them to where ‘home’ is.”

She adds, “It’s a difficult transition for everyone when a loved one has to come to a facility to be cared for. The resident’s disease is progressing, but the Montessori approach allows us to individualize each resident’s care through activities and to meet his or her needs more closely.”

Sallie explains that anything a staff member does with someone with dementia can be considered an activity. Staff can use re-learning opportunities as a three- to five minute-activity. She adds, “Residents can also experience depression when facing memory conditions. We want to lessen the depression they feel. We want them to have a quality of life and to have fun. The more we get them involved, the more committed they will be.”

Among the fun activities residents at Heartfields experience are Sallie’s “Magical Mystery Bus Tours,” which are bus trips that the residents take twice a month throughout the region. Sallie says that the residents determine where the bus will go for each trip. Often, the residents want to go to see boats in a local marina, as they may have worked or lived near the water before coming to Heartfields.

Sallie adds, “Everyone participates in their own way. We tell families that it is about us making it work for Mom here, not Mom fitting into our plan.”

Another aspect of Bridge to Rediscovery, which contributes to quality of life for residents, is an award-winning dining and nutrition program. Residents enjoy chef-prepared dining where they have choices at every meal. Meals are served family style at individual tables with linen table clothes and yellow dinnerware, which helps residents’ visual perception and independent dining. Brain healthy, nutritionally-balanced and freshly-prepared meals help feed both the bodies and souls of residents in the program.

The bottom line is that individuals with dementia still want to feel valued and involved in the world around them. Heartfields Bridge to Rediscovery Memory Care believes that by following the Montessori principles of “relating, motivating and appreciating,” the program can support a happy and healthy life for its residents.

Five Star Senior Living, which operates Heartfields Assisted Living at Easton, serves residents and families at more than 270 Independent Living, Assisted Living, Alzheimer’s/Memory Care communities and Healthcare Centers across the country. For further information about Bridge to Rediscovery Memory Care at Heartfields, call Melissa Boudrie, Director of Sales and Marketing, at 410-820-4400 or visit


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Allison Rogers


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