A forthcoming senior living community in the Southwest is integrating the popular Montessori educational philosophy into its assisted living and memory care programming.

As planned, it’s the first senior living community designed from the ground-up with Montessori principles in mind. The effort is notable, particularly as many senior living providers across the U.S. are searching for new ways to diversify their memory care programming amid a competitive landscape for the property type.

Montessori ONE Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico is collaborating with West Linn, Oregon-based operator Insight Senior Living to open Amaran Senior Living, a 72-apartment assisted living and memory care community in Albuquerque, with programming and architectural design centered on Montessori theory.

The community is currently under construction on the campus of Montessori ONE Academy, an Association Montessori International (AMI)-recognized school for kids ranging in age from six-weeks-old to elementary schoolers. If all goes according to plan, it will open in the fall of 2020.

Montessori is an educational approach first developed over a century ago by Italian doctor and educator Maria Montessori. The philosophy places students in a specially prepared environment that encourages freedom of choice and self-expression.

While the Montessori approach is popular in preschools and elementary programs, it hasn’t found as much wide appeal in the senior living world. But that’s not the case with Amaran Senior Living, according to Montessori ONE Academy Founder and Director Tina Patel.

“This allows us to complete the circle of life,” Patel told Senior Housing News. “We start out in this world needing help and developing and moving at our own pace, and I think … we get to that point in our lives when we start needing help again.”

‘Empowering philosophy of living’

Amaran Senior Living will provide activities designed to stimulate residents’ sense of autonomy and self-expression. That may include tinkering with objects that were meaningful to them in their lives, participating in household chores or helping themselves to snacks or beverages when they’re hungry or thirsty.

Additionally, Amaran is designed with Montessori principles in mind. For instance, important objects and locations are placed within residents’ line of sight, and there is special signage and lighting throughout the building designed to help residents get from one place to another without trouble or confusion.

“Everything from the signs in the building to the flooring material to where the lighting is placed and how the closet is designed has been thought through with Montessori principles in mind,” Patel said.

Assisted living residents who don’t have Alzheimer’s or dementia can still benefit from the structured environment. Those residents will have plenty of opportunities to spend time with students from the adjacent Montessori schools, for example.

In fact, Amaran will have just 16 memory care units, with 56 designed for assisted living.

“There are a lot of activities where we are going to be very conscious of the assisted living side,” she said. “I want residents to have access to the children, whether they come here to help us read to them, help in the garden … or rock, feed and soothe babies.”

To come up with its Montessori programming and help with the overall design, Amaran’s backers late last year began working with Jennifer Brush, who is the only AMI-certified educator for Montessori in aging and dementia in the U.S.

Through her consulting company, Brush Development, Brush has also worked with providers such as Lutheran SeniorLife, Living Branches, Clark Retirement Communities, Summit Square Retirement Community and Presbyterian Communities of South Carolina.

“So many communities spend a lot of time focusing on how to stop responsive behaviors with people in dementia,” Brush told SHN. “With Montessori programming, we’re instead spending time developing meaningful relationships.”

Brush, who is a speech language pathologist, first began using Montessori principles as a way to help her clients in speech language therapy. But the philosophy has many more uses in long-term care, she said.

“In long-term care, people often spend long periods of time sitting and doing nothing while things are done for them,” Brush said. “In a Montessori environment, older adults are given the opportunity to care for themselves. It’s a very empowering philosophy of living instead of a medical caregiving model.”