Taking care of an elderly loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia is a challenging proposition. Today, many caregivers are taking a page from the playbook of teachers. They are learning a new way to provide care to seniors. The Montessori approach, or Montessori method, as it’s called, emphasizes engaging in activities that are not too challenging for seniors in an attempt to help them find ways to reconnect with the world.
The Montessori Approach in Childcare Settings
As used in relation to children, the Montessori approach stresses giving children tasks that are challenging—but not too challenging as not to engender frustration. The idea is to present a child with a task that is just outside of his or her skills set so he or she will strive to reach it—and find joy in doing so.
To successfully use the Montessori approach, childcare providers must evaluate each individual child’s abilities and skills, along with the child’s own unique needs and wants. Children are not one-size-fits-all, and neither should their activities be standard and uniform. Likewise, what children enjoy doing—in terms of a reward for a successful task, or even doing something for the enjoyment of the activity itself—varies from child to child. Thus, the Montessori approach tailors each child’s activities to his or her own skills set, preferences, and desires.
The Montessori Approach in Dementia Care
When providing care to an elderly person who suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s, a caregiver should ask what the person is capable of doing, as well as what the person enjoys doing, and structure activities accordingly. In doing this, caregivers can avoid the issue of giving elderly people tasks that are simply too difficult for them to do, resulting in frustration and a sense of hopelessness. Instead, caregivers can use activities that specifically target an elderly person’s abilities and preferences. Leading them to a task that will keep the elderly person engaged and reconnected to the world.
For example, for an elderly person who used to enjoy gardening and who has some motor skills left, the caregiver could give the elderly person some freshly cut flowers along with a vase (made of wood, or plastic, or some other unbreakable material) and ask the person to arrange the flowers into the vase. Doing so is something that will be within the elderly person’s ability level, and will also be something that he or she enjoys. Hopefully, this task will then help the elderly person to reconnect to some deep memories regarding gardening, bringing him or her some enjoyment and brightening of mood.
Considerations in Implementing the Montessori Approach
Caregivers should consider ways of reaching the part of the elderly person that’s unaffected by dementia. For example, many dementia sufferers retain a great deal of their long-term memory. A caregiver should explore ways to encourage tasks that would help an elderly person think about things from long ago.
Another way to approach an elderly person is to give him or her tasks that rely on motor memory. Something as simple as buttoning a shirt works well. Taking into consideration challenges presented by conditions such as arthritis, a caregiver must make adjustments. For example, an article of clothing with oversized buttons and buttonholes may be best. The successful completion of this task will provide the elderly person with a sense of accomplishment. It may also trigger memories of dressing a child for school, getting ready for an important meeting, and so on.
If a particular elderly person used to work as a carpenter, a caregiver could provide an oversized child’s pegboard toy. If an elderly person worked in a laundry facility, a caregiver could provide a stack of clean towels to fold.
The idea is to provide the elderly person with a task that he or she is capable of doing. It should also have some connection to his or her life. By performing the task, memories may be refreshed. The elderly person may remember positive and happy things from days past.
People come with a variety of abilities and likes. It makes sense, then, that caregivers uniquely tailor activities to fit the abilities and enjoyment of their elderly patients. By fitting the activity to the person’s skill level, a caregiver may assure that the person will not become overly frustrated. Instead, he or she will enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishing the activity. By linking it to something from the patient’s life, caregivers can help spur positive memories. This refreshes connections to the world in which the patient still lives.
Hunt, M. (May 27, 2014). Why the Montessori Method Is Becoming a Popular Treatment for Dementia. Alzheimers.net. Available at http://www.alzheimers.net/2014-05-27/montessori-method-dementia/. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
Orsulic-Jeras, S., Judge, K.S., Camp, C.J. (2000). Montessori-based activities for long-term care residents with advanced dementia: effects on engagement and affect. Gerontologist, 40(1): 107-111. Available at http://gerontologist.oxfordjournals.org/content/40/1/107.full.pdf+html. Retrieved September 6, 2016.