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"Everything You Do for Me, You Take from Me"

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

Marie Montessori, Italian physician turned educator, improved the quality of life for children by cultivating their natural interests and abilities through self-directed hands-on learning. Her method emphasizes the value of independence and environment to support independence for individuals with memory loss, as well as for children .

In my last blog post, I described how creating a monthly theme can spur all sorts of independent action, where elders can take a more active role in the community. Our role, as activity leaders, is to discover, continually, what they are excited about. It might be something they never did before, such as raise larvae into butterflies, or garden or make donuts.

In a recent webinar on “How Fostering Community Leads to Wellness and Census,” the speakers talked about elders brewing beer in the community. They mentioned a slew of productive, purposeful activities related to brewing beer, including growing plants to make a lavender-infused porter.

They also talked about “meaningful activities,” that community members could participate in, such as preparing veggies for meals or setting/clearing the table. These actions can be related to the theme of the month. For example, Thanksgiving is a major holiday in November. Throughout that month, elders could implement the theme of “giving thanks” by expressing thanks to staff, family, and ancestors, in unlimited ways (I.e., praise a person who helped them out in a story, a picture, a phone call, a note, a little arts gift, write a poem, set up an ancestor alter).

When I was a regional director of engagement and education for a group of assisted living communities, every time a community member passed away, we would set up a shrine to that person by setting up a shrine on a little table in a public room. On the table, we would place a bouquet of flowers, a photo of the person, a battery-operated candle, and a memento of the person’s life. When the deceased person was carried away in a casket, community members would strew flowers on the casket, say a few words of thanks to that person, and ring a community gong. Shortly thereafter, we would invite family members to a memorial circle in the community, where we set up a table with artifacts of the deceased elder. Community members, staff, and family would go around the circle. All who chose would share a story about the loved one, compose a poem, or a prayer.

These acts of kindness allow a community member to give, not just be a receptor of actions from others. Cared-for and caregiver become “care partners.”

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