A Guide to Using Montessori for Dementia Care

Feb 16, 2024

The Montessori method is an innovative approach that can promote independence and creativity for people at any stage of life. When adapted for older adults living with dementia, Montessori activities help your loved ones regain skills and connect with the people around them, from staff members to peers.

This guide will help you understand the core principles of the Montessori approach, how they can be applied to memory care, and the benefits of Montessori for dementia.

What Is the Montessori Approach?

The Montessori approach to education was pioneered by Dr. Maria Montessori over a century ago. Dr. Montessori designed a children’s daycare center that gave her students the freedom to choose how they learned and taught themselves new skills. She allowed children to explore their interests and choose activities accordingly. To encourage curiosity and creativity, Dr. Montessori developed unique learning materials and activities in the classroom.

Since Dr. Montessori opened the first Casa Dei Bambini in Italy, her approach has gained popularity in schools around the world. However, the method’s success isn’t limited to a classroom setting. From workplaces to memory care facilities, the Montessori philosophy can help people thrive in many environments.

How Is the Montessori Method Applied to Memory Care?

Decades after Dr. Montessori developed her educational method, Dr. Cameron Camp discovered its effectiveness for people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The method fits naturally into memory care settings, providing a safe environment for older adults to socialize, relearn skills, and complete everyday tasks. A Montessori approach to dementia care focuses on the individual, encouraging them to make connections and independent choices while striving to reduce the frustration that can accompany memory loss.

Montessori for dementia care should look different for every patient. Care providers can incorporate activities and interests residents enjoy into their daily routines, from baking to gardening. Montessori activities for dementia patients may include setting the table, painting, or sorting colored objects.

How Can Montessori Programming Help With Memory Loss?

Many components of Montessori programming can assist with memory loss. Loved ones learn in a prepared environment that uses visual aids to guide them through their surroundings. People with dementia may also choose roles in their Montessori environment, like leading other residents in a game and preparing tables at mealtime to feel a sense of belonging and purpose. In addition, socialization may improve symptoms of dementia.

While the Montessori environment is structured, loved ones are free to choose their activities and interests instead of being told what to do. This approach to learning can help people with dementia feel empowered and spark interest in stimulating activities.

The Montessori approach aims to help patients feel like active—and valued—participants in their own care. Receiving care in this environment can help loved ones with memory loss maintain a sense of dignity and improve their quality of life.

The Benefits of Montessori for Seniors With Dementia

Whether your loved one has shown early signs of dementia or has been living with memory loss for years, the Montessori method can help them manage symptoms and reconnect with past experiences. These are some advantages of Montessori programming in a memory care setting:

Promotes Socialization

Montessori programming encourages residents with dementia to make connections with residents, staff members, family, and the larger community. From leading group activities to collaborating with caregivers to complete everyday tasks like laundry and dishes, participants in Montessori environments have many opportunities to get involved in a way that’s comfortable for them.

Beyond the memory care setting, family members can use Montessori practices to involve their loved ones in daily activities like setting the table or preparing a meal. Even a small role in a task can help loved ones feel like active participants. Older adults with dementia who are capable of participating in their community are also encouraged to volunteer or join groups, giving them a sense of belonging outside of their immediate family and peer group.

Fosters Independence

In a Montessori care program, loved ones get to choose daily activities that match their skill set. Additionally, activities allow residents to practice tasks that help them hone their skills, such as eating or putting on socks, in a manageable way.

Montessori care focuses on the person and their interests. Instead of reminding residents of the skills they have lost, staff members celebrate their capabilities. Loved ones get to practice familiar tasks that bring them joy and share their interests with others.

    Comforting and Supporting Conversations: Emotional Well-Being Matters

    Understanding and empathizing with the feelings behind the words is necessary when dealing with memory loss. Emotional well-being matters. Express comfort and reassurance during conversations, as this can significantly improve a person’s mood and openness to communicate. Always try to keep the conversation positive and uplifting, even if the topic of discussion is difficult.

    Nurtures Creativity

    Staff members encourage loved ones in a Montessori environment, and they give choices instead of directions. This model of care enables people with dementia to get out of their comfort zone while remaining in a safe, structured setting.

    Loved ones can also express their creativity directly through Montessori activities like painting, making music, or arranging flowers. Each individual can choose how to let their personality shine and get their creative juices flowing.

    Stimulates the Senses

    Because sensory loss has been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s, it can be highly beneficial for loved ones to participate in Montessori activities designed to engage all five senses. Activities like smelling scented candles, identifying flavors, sorting colored objects, feeling different fabrics, or playing simple instruments can make learning enjoyable and keep the senses sharp. Simple activities also remind loved ones of happy past experiences, such as baking a holiday treat or discovering a favorite song.

    Creates Familiarity

    Montessori activities tend to focus on repetition, which helps loved ones with dementia retain the skills they have, such as zipping a jacket or pouring a glass of water before mealtime. For skills that loved ones may have lost, like remembering what’s in a cupboard or their agenda for the day, staff members can create labels, written schedules, and other visual cues. By focusing on retained skills and assisting loved ones with the skills dementia targets, the Montessori method helps create a comforting setting.

    Simplifies Complex Tasks

    Tasks with multiple steps, such as getting dressed for the day or making the bed, can become overwhelming for people with dementia. The Montessori method encourages patients to focus on one step at a time and move sequentially until the larger task is completed.

    Staff members trained in Montessori education can use specially designed learning tools for people with dementia to practice the steps in a task, such as a board with buttons or zippers.

    Improves Quality of Life

    People with dementia may feel a loss of control when their memory declines. The Montessori method allows them to focus on what is still in their power and find joy in what they can do. Since the environment is designed to support people with memory loss, a Montessori setting can improve overall quality of life, allow people with dementia to maintain a meaningful social role, and find enrichment in daily routines.

     Fairmont embraces a Montessori approach to memory care so your loved ones can thrive in a supportive environment.

    How Fairmont Puts Montessori for Dementia Care Into Practice

    Fairmont Senior Living on Clayton uses a Montessori-based memory care approach developed by the Center for Applied Research in Dementia. Our trained staff members learn about each individual’s history, interests, and capabilities to determine activities and learning opportunities that will help them thrive. Through our program, residents get the chance to:

    • Make meaningful choices and practice independence
    • Maintain respect and dignity
    • Connect with loved ones
    • Engage with the broader community
    • Participate in sensory activities
    • Lead other residents in activities and committees
    • Socialize with peers and staff members
    • Practice cognitive and motor skills
    • Feel a sense of belonging

    Our staff members have observed positive trends in mood and behavior for patients engaged in Montessori care, and we firmly believe in the power of independence and socialization for people with dementia.

    Key Takeaways

    The Montessori approach has been helping children learn and gain independence for over a century, and its recent adaptation for memory care patients has had similar success.

    Loved ones with dementia can learn and practice skills in a supportive environment designed to ease the frustration associated with memory loss. Engaging in sensory activities and participating in group settings can improve symptoms of dementia and overall quality of life.

    A Montessori-based care approach has many benefits, from increased independence to higher confidence in performing daily tasks. Fairmont Senior Living on Clayton uses the Montessori method to preserve loved ones’ respect and dignity while giving them room to learn, grow, and make meaningful connections.

    Want to see what Montessori for seniors with dementia looks like in practice? Schedule a tour of our facility to learn how we support and encourage loved ones with memory loss.

    The Role of Neurologists, Geriatricians, and Other Health Professionals

    Caring for someone with memory loss can be daunting, which is why seeking professional help can be beneficial. The health care team may comprise neurologists, geriatricians, primary care physicians, psychologists, occupational therapists, and social workers, all experts in memory care. The team can devise a comprehensive care plan that addresses medical treatment, comportment strategies, mental health support, and in severe cases, options for assisted living. Additionally, professionals can provide guidance and education to caregivers, helping them comprehend the condition better and improve their communication and caregiving skills.

    Key Takeaways

    Explore a groundbreaking approach to memory care at Fairmont Senior Living on Clayton in St. Louis. Through our Montessori-based Memory Care program, we offer residents an independent and purpose-driven lifestyle. Our staff knows how to talk to someone with memory loss and strongly believes in the importance of dignity, respect, and meaningful engagement for individuals with dementia. By focusing on a person’s strengths rather than their limitations, we create personalized activities that enhance their skills, interests, and overall quality of life. From helping with meal preparation to welcoming new residents, every activity has a greater purpose. Contact us today to learn more about our memory care program.