It has been over twenty years since the Montessori Life Magazine published an article discussing the Montessori Method’s potential as a treatment for patients with dementia. The article was published in 1996, and since then, the Montessori Method has been adapted to this new population, implemented in many facilities, and carefully studied to prove its positive effects.
The Montessori Method helps individuals with dementia by emphasizing a ‘person-centered approach.’ Respect, dignity, and equality are the core values of the Montessori Method. Person-centered treatment and the core values create care that is individualized to be stimulating and empowering.
In 1999, a manual that described and directed Montessori-based activities for individuals with dementia was published (and later translated into a variety of languages). This helped the use of Montessori-based treatment for dementia really take off in actual practice. Since then, the treatment has a growing reach and has served many dementia patients.
Why Use the Montessori Method for Dementia Patients?
Seeing as the Montessori Method was originally created for children and implemented in school classrooms, translating those same principles to care for individuals with dementia, a population comprised of mostly seniors, can seem a bit ill-fitting. But despite the differences between these two populations, the Montessori method is rooted in principles that are beneficial for both, just for different reasons and with progress reflected in different ways.
Care based in the Montessori Method is implemented in dementia patients because it engages the senses, emphasizes what an individual can do, promotes independence and choice, and instills a sense of empowerment.
- Engaging the Senses
One way of implementing Montessori based treatment is by using sensory experience to reconnect the individual to what is around them and remaining long-term memories.
For example, art or music therapy and physical activities require the individual to engage with the environment around them, are mentally stimulating, and promote positive emotions. These kinds of activities maximize the use of senses to keep them as sharp as possible for as long as possible.
- Emphasis on What the Individual is Capable Of
The Montessori Method emphasizes challenging individuals enough so that progress can take place, but not too much that they grow frustrated, discouraged, or want to give up. Any planned activities or exercises are based around maximizing current abilities and slowly progressing them. This allows the individual to focus on their abilities, rather than inabilities, while still having goals for improvement.
This may be easy to envision in a classroom setting, but for patients with dementia may look like offering alternatives when a patient resists an activity or stopping an activity earlier than planned because they are growing visibly upset or frustrated.
- Promotes Independence and Choice
A foundational concept in the Montessori Method, especially when applied to seniors or any dementia patients, is promoting the most independence possible and offering opportunity for choice wherever possible.
This may mean allowing a patient with dementia to have a choice between what they do during the day or what they wear if they need help getting dressed. This allows for a strong sense of self and a sense of control in their life. Further, it communicates that in a care facility, their opinions and concerns will be listened to and are valued.
Overall, the previously listed goals of the Montessori Method empower an individual with dementia to have an active role in their treatment and maintain their identity outside of being a dementia patient.
Feelings of empowerment in an individual with dementia are important for multiple reasons. An empowered individual will speak up when they have a problem whether emotionally or physically, which allows for the best, quickest reaction to any complications. Empowerment and a good self-image correlate to an individual being active in and putting their best effort towards self-care and treatments. Lastly, feeling empowered as an individual allows the patient to experience positive feelings and a sense of self throughout the life span.
How is the Montessori Method Implemented in Dementia Treatment?
Exactly how the Montessori Method is implemented and used will vary because of how individualized the method is, but also by the type of care facility that is using it. Dementia is experienced over a wide range of severities and accordingly, there are many different options to choose from when looking for treatment. These options can include a day center, nursing centers, or hospital settings.
Montessori in Day Centers
Adult day health centers offer individuals with dementia activities and care throughout weekdays and then they return home with their families during the evening and on weekends.
Day centers can implement the Montessori method best by tailoring the individual’s daily activities to their interests for more engaging and fulfilling days. This often looks like splitting into small groups that do different activities and having individuals choose which group they are most interested in joining. Day center staff can listen to the group and what activities they would like to repeat or incorporate in future planning.
Grouping may also be split to accommodate different levels of functioning so that individuals are met with activities that challenge them properly.
Montessori in Nursing Centers
In a nursing home, residents often need more help with day to day activities and self-care. Following the Montessori Method, staff would try to balance the need for a structured, daily schedule that keeps the facility running smoothly with a day that gives the individuals being cared for choice and personalized treatment.
This may look like having jobs for individuals with dementia to choose from. Some may help prepare meals, while others prefer to help clean up after. Options like these allow the people in the nursing center’s care to have choice over what they do and feel a sense of purpose and involvement in the environment.
Nursing centers can often accommodate a certain amount of personal items and activities. In a nursing home, there is often some flexibility where preferable activities can be linked to treatment. For example, an individual who enjoys reading or writing can work with the staff to include those activities in their daily regime in a way that is enjoyable and benefits their treatment.
Montessori in Hospital Settings
Hospital settings are often seen as quite restrictive. In this environment, where many people worry their choice and control in day to day matters is going to be taken away, the Montessori core values of respect, dignity, and equality can make a huge difference.
A hospital in Northern Ireland adopted the Montessori Method to care for dementia patients. As a way of maintaining a sense of belonging in patients, they encouraged them to write invitations to family members to come visit for a tea event.
Many hospitals that have taken on a commitment to the Montessori Method in dementia care try to maximize the time patients spend in the community. This honors the commitment to carefully challenging patients. Time in the community is more stimulating and engaging, but activities are carefully considered as to not overwhelm or fatigue patients in any way. This also preserves a sense of belonging and identity in the community despite hospitalization.
Future for Montessori Method Based Dementia Care
The American Montessori Society Website does a great job of summarizing the international progress that has been seen in the last twenty years. Across the globe, the standard for care is being challenged and patient outcomes are benefiting. While there is still lots of room for further research and new perspectives, the Montessori Method is gaining attention and credibility with every new study and facility that implements its approach.