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Retirement community uses Montessori environment to improve quality of life for seniors with dementia

Posted: 5:59 PM, Dec 04, 2017
Updated: 2017-12-04 17:59:01-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A year-long research project at a retirement community is aimed at improving the lives of seniors with dementia, in part by building engagement and sense of belonging.

The Clark Retirement Community in Grand Rapids is the first nationwide to implement the Montessori International method along with a 12-month research period, according to Chris Simons, director of dementia and life enrichment services. Since January trained staff put in place roles for many of the 37 senior residents living with dementia in this unit, along with clearly labeled activities, name tags, room signs and pictures.

"It gives them purpose, it helps increase their self esteem and quality of life certainly," said Simons.

"We see people self-starting activities on their own or with each other. We see families very pleased to see that their family members can do more than they ever expected with the diseases that they have. It’s been fantastic."

Simons says staff will soon analyze their data to determine the effects of this Montessori environment on the residents' rate of falls, medication use and behaviors, including self-esteem. Their goal is to publish their study, and then expand this program throughout Clark Retirement Community, beginning with their Keller Lake units.

"Seeing how their level of engagement and contentment has improved over the past year has been amazing," said Renee Van Y, life enrichment specialist with Clark Retirement Community.

"You’re setting them up for success. In healthcare, we get so accustomed to doing things for them that they almost become trained to let staff do everything for them. So by giving them these environmental cues and supports, and encouraging them to do it on their own, they’re becoming more independent."

Van Y told FOX 17 since implementing the program, residents' use of television during the day is down along with overall restlessness. Instead, music is playing and shared spaces are organized with labeled activities, like folding a basket of play-laundry, matching games, cleaning their common room and puzzles.

Monday, two residents shared their roles with FOX 17 as one gentleman passed out water, walking a cart room to room for fellow residents. Another resident serves as the in-house letter carrier every day but Sunday.