WINDSONG MEMORY CARE is a great new facility in Fort Collins, part of the new growing field of applying Montessori methods to help dementia patients.

They call their approach the Montessori Inspired Lifestyle®, and it’s revolutionary.

We all have fears when it comes to our declining years. For me, the idea of losing my memory and thinking is unbelievably scary.

I had the chance to speak with Don Harris recently, one of the principal developers of this facility, along with Mike Zingg. I wanted to hear more of the powerful story behind their approach, and why they are choosing to dedicate their careers to it.

This particular philosophy has been researched for three decades by Dr. Cameron Camp, Director of Research and Development for the Center for Applied Research in Dementia. While Dr. Camp has been training and supporting caregivers with dementia and cognitive intervention for over 30 years, WindSong’s flagship community in Salem, Oregon is the first to be certified as a complete Montessori Community.  WindSong at Rock Creek, in Fort Collins, Colorado plans to be the second, followed by WindSong at Northridge, in Greeley, Colorado in 2019.

The Montessori Inspired Lifestyle®

Dr. Maria Montessori is perhaps best known for developing a powerful approach to childhood development. It focuses on whole-child development and includes work in retention of learning.

It turns out that this can directly help those with dementia!

Dr. Cameron Camp found significantly improved results when Alzheimer’s patients are aided by direct involvement, memory exercises, and a strong sense of community. That’s what caught Don’s attention, as he had been developing elder care facilities for 15 years.

In 2013, Don joined forces with Mike to focus exclusively on this Montessori method of care. Building facilities from the ground up, they’re able to design the building and the organization so that every element contributes to the health of its residents.

It’s not easy: every employee is deeply trained in this approach, and the buildings and grounds are designed to aid memory. But it delivers results.

The Lifestyle

In elder care communities, it’s common to have a regular schedule of activities. Staff will bring in food and leaders to keep residents entertained and lively.

The Montessori-based approach, though, is intent on having those residents directly involved in every part of an activity. They’ll plan, shop for, and cook the food. They’ll set tables and help those having difficulties.

It’s about the community taking care of itself, where everyone is engaged and valued. Where everyone has the opportunity to have a purpose. This is really what it is all about, the opportunity. Assumptions are made about people with Alzheimer’s and other age related dementias. Society assumes that these individuals are no longer able to do for themselves, that they cannot have new experiences and can no longer actively engage in their lives or make choices. At WindSong, they do not make these assumptions, they provide the opportunity or the pathways that enable rather than further disable.

And it delivers results, with people able to improve their quality of life based on a sense of self-worth and purpose.

12 key principles of the Montessori Inspired Lifestyle®

  1. The activity should have a sense of purpose and capture the person’s interest.
  2. Always invite the person to participate.
  3. Offer choice whenever possible.
  4. Talk less. Demonstrate more.
  5. Physical skills; focus on what the person can do.
  6. Match your speed with the person you are caring for. Slow down!
  7. Use visual hints, cues or templates.
  8. Give the person something to hold.
  9. Go from simple tasks to more complex ones.
  10. Break a task down into steps; make it easier to follow.
  11. To end, ask: ‘Did you enjoy doing this?’ and ‘Would you like to do this again?’
  12. There is no right or wrong. Think engagement.


The business

I had to ask Don about the business, of course. This is a wonderfully generous idea, but how sustainable is it over the long haul?

His answer? “While it is true that this is a for-profit business model, our mission is to provide quality care in a way that we would want for our loved one’s and ourselves. If we do this, then the profit follows as well as a long term sustainable business.”

The Salem facility is full with a waiting list. With Colorado as a popular retirement destination, no doubt the two sites here will hit a similar state. After all, there are 6 million in the US needing memory care of some sort, but only 1 million receiving some kind of structured care like this.

The market’s there, and it’s the right kind of service for many. Not everyone, perhaps, but plenty to make it a sustainable business.