Making Seniors with Dementia Successful in their environment using the Montessori Method

Maria Montessori was a physician and educator in Rome who developed the Montessori theory. Maria was a pioneer for her time. She was challenged with hard assignments because she was a woman. Other professionals in her field felt she should be tested to prove herself because it was not likely a woman be educated as a medical professional at this time. She was given an assignment that everyone was sure she would fail.

Dr. Montessori was given indigent children who were unsuccessful in a regular school environment and was asked to provide them with a successful education. She was given an old building and not much of a budget. Maria quickly realized the best way to educate these children and make them successful was to utilize their environment. She did just that.  Maria used items within the classroom to help educate the children. It was a success.

You may be asking—how does this pertain to dementia and seniors? Dr. Cameron Camp realized the genius ideas of Dr. Maria Montessori. He also realized these concepts could be used across the lifespan and began his work with those with dementia to make them embrace life and be successful in their own environment.

The concept is to make programs at home or in a facility environment successful for the person with dementia appropriate to run independently. It is important for the person with dementia to have a sense of purpose. Dr. Camp felt this was a concept that would work.

Research has shown much success in using these concepts with persons with dementia. Persons with dementia are given choices about what they would like to do, what they would like to eat, what they would like to drink etc. Persons with dementia are also given the independence to interact with the environment. They are encouraged to pour drinks, to set the tables, to lead the programs. This gives a sense of purpose.

Montessori methods utilize templates to make persons with dementia successful. A great example is a template to set a table. Using a placemat, a staff member or a family member can draw all things the person with dementia will need on the template to successfully set the table.

The template might include a large circle in the middle of the placement for a circle. You might trace utensils on the placemat where you would like them placed. You can place a circle the size of the cup in one of the upper corners and a larger circle in the opposite corners for a soup or salad bowl. This can help with success. You should show the person with dementia what you would like them to do by demonstrating the task with limited words.

You can also use templates at the bedside for eyeglasses, dentures, or personal items, which are essential. You can also use these types of labels for clothing in drawers or clothes to help make persons with dementia successful, if possible. The use of templates can help with many activities – the possibilities are endless, and you can create extensions to any of these activities.

To discuss these ideas and more, contact Nicole Lipinski, RN, at Aging Care Partners of Jewish Home for an evaluation of how to make seniors successful in their environment at 570-344-6177 ext. 1113 or nlipinski@jhep.org.