Lisa TerHaar ’88 and Michelle Thompson ‘86 have created a brand-new concept combining children and elders with dementia in a Montessori program. This intergenerational classroom day program “engages children and elders in a meaningful community while experiencing ordinary life with extraordinary love.” They call it “Nonna’s,” which is the Italian word for grandmother, and want it to be a home away from home, where children have an experience “just like being at grandma’s.” Nonna’s first location is in Wayzata, across the street from Presbyterian Homes. Right now, they are enrolling infants, toddlers, and elders in their Montessori day program. You can find out all about Nonna’s online at nonnas.net.
Dedicated Faculty Make A Difference
Lisa attended MA from 7th-12th grade and remembers having good friends, enjoying being a part of the athletic programs, and appreciating the teachers at Minnehaha. Being a part of the volleyball and ski team were “a lot of fun,” with the camaraderie of the team being the best part of the experience. “My teachers at MA were all people who really loved their subject area.” Rabbi Swanson was a very inspiring teacher who taught Biblical concepts by reading through the Chronicles of Narnia and Pilgrim’s Progress with his students, adding a layer of depth and relating it to their own spiritual formation. Her French teacher, Mrs. Johannessen was doing French immersion before immersion “was a thing.” Mrs. Johannessen “breathed French and promoted this whole feeling of another world in her classroom.” They would have special days where they would do things like make French food. Lisa even got to go to France on an amazing two-week trip planned by Mrs. Johannessen, which included one week of travel and one week of staying with a French family.
Life Beyond MA
After attending Calvin College to earn her BSN, Lisa attended the University of Minnesota to earn her MSN and credentials as a nurse practitioner. She spent several years caring for elders in the Allina Health System and Presbyterian Homes communities, which cultivated an interest in integrative/functional medicine, most specifically in the area of dementia prevention. While working at Minnesota Personalized Medicine, she collaborated with Michelle and their husbands to co-found Nonna’s, where Lisa is Chief Operating Officer and Director of Adult Programming.
Lisa has been a caregiver for her mother who is living with dementia, which inspired the intergenerational programming. One of her hopes and goals for this coming year is to create and launch a community-based dementia prevention program. “For me, that is a really important part of the work--to go beyond just caring for elders---but to connect with families, and other people in the community who are concerned about dementia risk.”
“The research is really building around the opportunity we have to prevent dementia. It is estimated that there is a period of 10-15 years when you’re having changes to your brain before symptoms are present. If we can connect with people in that window of time, there is so much that we can do!” she said. Lisa has received training with Dr. Dale Bredesen, who, in his book “The End of Alzheimer’s” has published dementia reversals for people who are in those earlier stages. “It is very exciting research. I look at my mom, and we were too late to implement the program for her--but now looking at myself, my sisters, and people who are in our generation, we are at the critical time in life to make changes.” Dr Bredesen coined the term cognoscopy, suggesting that just as we routinely screen people for risk of colon cancer, we can screen people for their risk of dementia. What do people aged 50+ need? First, they need a thorough intake assessment, which includes assessing sleep status, a history of toxin exposures, along with a lab workup to identify their personal risk factors, which then leads to a personalized prevention plan. Lisa is enthusiastic in her belief that there is hope for families, like her own, who are at risk for dementia.