The Palms implements new method for memory loss


The route to Janice Reaves’ office is marked by halls painted sorbet-orange and mint green, fresh flower arrangements and vintage memorabilia from the late 1920s through the early 1950s. It’s the first thing visitors see when they make their way to The Palms’ memory care unit.

The decor is part of Reaves’ use of the Montessori method as part of The Palms’ memory care program. The goal, the assistant activity director of memory care said, is to help residents suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s by focusing on the things they’re able to do and activities that re-familiarize them with their lives.

Since its inception in the early 20th century, the Montessori method (named for its creator, Maria Montessori) has been best known as a teaching method for children. But its principles – considering the needs, interests and capabilities of the individual while still challenging them and providing the opportunity to learn – hold true for engaging those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, Reaves said.

“What I try to do is transfer those ideas into health care and assisted living,” said Reaves, who joined The Palms in February. “And this method focuses on what individuals can still achieve and not on what’s been lost.”

Reaves said the memory care program incorporates both motor skills and memory jogging – activities that use sorting, bundling and organizational skills – with her own added twist of sentimentality to spur collaboration and encourage engagement. The idea is to constantly stimulate the senses to help individuals rediscover and remember their world.

Each activity consists of skills used on a daily basis, such as sorting and categorizing, grasping, pulling and pushing, cooking, wrapping and bundling. The difference with the Montessori method, she said, lies in engaging each individual with an activity that has a tangible accomplishment. For Reaves’ group, that could mean choosing and arranging flowers that later decorate the memory care unit’s dining tables for dinner, or completing puzzles that gradually increase in difficulty in a certain amount of time. For example, Reaves may have residents sort swatches of fabric according to color or material, or ask them to identify objects and inventions that have changed their own lives to help them recall things with which they’re familiar.

“It’s a bit like occupational therapy, but there’s a beginning, middle and end to the activities as opposed to producing no results,” Reaves said. “And what I try to do is use things they’ll be familiar with – things that will help them be reminded of special events and celebrated moments in their own lives.”

That means in addition to short trips to places like the nearby bird sanctuary and visits from two therapy dogs, day-to-day activities consist of things that residents knew and enjoyed while growing up in the 1940s and1950s: listening to records on a phonograph, sorting and polishing ornamental buttons, arranging flowers or folding clothes. Occasionally, Reaves brings in her own collection of antique dolls.

“By doing things like polishing the chrome of a cookware set or wrapping pennies, bundling baby socks -- they’re reminded of doing those things in the past,“ she said. “But instead of just going through those motions, they’re creating something with a process. They can see what they’ve created and feel proud of the accomplishment.”

Those feelings of accomplishment and progress are cornerstones for the Montessori philosophy. “It’s a very lonely disease,” Reaves explained. “And it can be scary. Often times there will be individuals who, at first, don’t want to take part in the activity. But then they see the people around them doing it and they feel encouraged to participate, too.”

Executive Director Barbara Mattison believes The Palms’ memory care unit will continue to grow and help more people and families cope with memory loss.

“This method allows (residents) to engage with their families and with one another to basically enjoy their lives again,” she said. “It’s been really moving to see.

“This disease affects the whole family,” she continued. “But here, we try to help families learn to deal with that. And since (the program) has started, it’s been amazing to see how much it’s helped.”