How To Engage Loved Ones

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Research has validated high success rates of applying Montessori-based techniques therapeutically to enhance physical and cognitive functions, reduce excess disability, and support well-being among elders. Besides Montessori’s efficacy, it is also easy, fun and inexpensive to implement. Because of its ease and positive values, staff are able to experience short-term success. This success is personally rewarding to staff and provides encouragement for them to continue to increase their skills and expertise while also providing opportunities to nurture positive relationships with elders – which in turn enhances staff job satisfaction and retention.

One day I observed a housekeeper in an assisted living residence pass by a table where a resident was engrossed in using tongs to pick up ping pong balls and place them into ice cube trays. Also on the table was a container full of 80 multi-colored shower curtain rings. The housekeeper quietly pulled up a chair and began clipping the shower curtain rings together. Before long, she had strung together 25 rings. The resident looked up and told her “she was doing a great job and to keep up the good work.” She laughed and bantered back that he was pretty good with the tongs; had he honed that skill barbecuing? This got them talking about their favorite food to barbecue. The residence’s maintenance man was nearby and joined the conversation by detailing his recipe for mouth-watering barbecue sauce. Two staff members and a resident spent a spontaneous five minutes together and ended up laughing and sharing fond memories of past meals

I shared this encounter with the resident’s daughter the next time I saw her. I was laughing remembering the funny barbecue recipe containing beer, honey, ketchup and most everything else in the maintenance man’s refrigerator when I noticed the daughter’s eyes welling. She looked up and said this story made her so happy. She was remembering how her father was asked to leave another facility because of his agitated behavior. The use of simple, every-day items to stimulate and engage her father not only helped enhance his physical function and well-being, but also effectively addressed his behavior challenges.

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