Anne Kelly is a Montessori Dementia Consultant, who also holds postgraduate qualifications in dementia management, assessment and workplace training and dementia care mapping. She has worked extensively in dementia care in both residential and community for the past 30 years. In 2009 she was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to further study Montessori principles used in dementia care. This fellowship enabled her to travel to Greece, Canada and the USA to work alongside world experts in this area. Since her return to Australia, Anne has continued to build her reputation as an experienced aged care Montessorian and is now in demand to provide mentoring and training in Montessori principles for organisations wishing to embrace Montessori principles into their professional practices.





Where in the world did you grow up, Anne?

I am Tasmanian, through and through! I grew up in the city of Hobart with a distant view of glorious Mount Wellington and within a few short hours of being lost in the Tasmanian wilderness. In the year 1967, bushfires destroyed much of the city and many of my school friends lived in areas that were gutted by fire, as did our own family. 

My father climbed onto our roof with a hose to save our house; his actions resulted in him being blinded as well as receiving burns to both his hands. I can remember total strangers coming to carry all our furniture into the street, to help us. My very best friend at the time crawled into a water drain and survived this disaster.




Can you describe one of your most precious childhood memories?

Our family had what we call here a “shack” holiday home, which was more of a comfortable vacation cottage rather than a one-room shed as might be understood by this description in other parts of the world. I have so many fond memories of heading off to Opossum Bay on a Friday evening and spending the weekend rowing boats, fishing or riding horses before returning to the city on Sunday night. My mother now lives in that shack and every time I visit her, I think of collecting crabs, finding starfish and exploring the treasures of the outdoor environment. 



What do you remember about your earliest school days?

When I think back to my earliest school days, I see the children standing outside the classroom in groups. One of my classmates had a bathroom accident one day, which I can remember clearly. She was frightened to ask the teacher if she could use the toilet and was further humiliated by the teacher’s lack of empathy in her response to the accident. The overall atmosphere was tense, rather than supportive, with some physical punishments administered for imperfect handwriting and other learning challenges. 



Did one person in particular inspire you during your childhood?

I looked up to many people, but a local fellow who owned a farm does come to mind. I called him “uncle”. He taught me a great deal in terms of living on the land and respecting the environment. He was a very kind, generous, accepting man and was always there to offer me support. 



How does your childhood experience relate to the life you are currently living?

I have quite a number of aunties and uncles who were elderly; I spent a lot of time with them while I was growing up. I valued my time with them and watched them grow older and become more frail. I developed a respect for elderly people that certainly influenced what I chose to do with my life. My belief is that we continue to develop, to grow, and to change in all phases of life. The respect and love that I received from my older family members remained with me; as they aged, I featured in their final weeks as someone who supported their dignity in difficult times. Probably the most significant thing that contributed to my decision to work in my present field was the loss of a very good friend when I was eighteen years of age. She was actually murdered, and I was the last person to spend time with her. Her death continually reminds me how important it is to respect and value life.



Anne, please tell us a little more about what you do!

Because I felt that I had something to offer people through the healthcare system, I first qualified as a registered nurse and then specialized in dementia care. People living with dementia bring me so much inspiration; some of them have survived wars, lost children in childbirth or have experienced great challenges in their lives and have worked to overcome them. Many years ago, I attended a workshop featuring Montessori activities for people living with dementia and I witnessed what I thought to be the Holy Grail of dignity and respect for the people I so willingly worked to serve. I subsequently availed of a Churchill Fellowship and began to travel and meet Montessori educators. Once I came back to Tasmania I began to lead the way in developing our work further. I have been very blessed and lucky!


Most people in Australia who work in the field of Montessori for Dementia and Ageing have been trained by me. Our approach focuses on the individual strengths of the person. We strive to enable people to realize that, despite obvious challenges, there is still meaning in their lives. It is truly wonderful to see people living with dementia feeling that they matter! Many of our activities are rooted in simple practical life activities such as self-care and feeding. Of course, dementia is progressive. Skills will eventually be lost but when this happens depends on us and the work that we do. I believe that Montessori is a way of life, of respecting and honoring all people. I believe that everyone has their own story. 




So many people have benefited from your insight and expertise, Anne! Thank you so much for helping us launch our new interview series. It feels good to realize that we can energize each other by exchanging our thoughts, our experiences and our commitment to others. Everyone’s story truly does matter.