Many people recognize the Montessori Method as a child-centered approach to education, but the learning principles are now proving beneficial with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
Originally developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator, the innovative Montessori principles are based largely on sensory-motor activities and peer learning.
Similar to strengthening cognitive ability in children, Montessori techniques for seniors living with dementia involve direct engagement of one’s senses of hearing, seeing, touching, smelling and tasting. Adults with memory issues rediscover the world around them through hands-on activities, cues from their environment, sensory experiences built around physical-cognitive exercise, music and art therapy and other modalities that activate muscle and long-term memory.
Examples of the Montessori process to help with dementia include the following:
- Match and fold a basket of clean socks.
- Work on puzzles and sorting exercises.
- Fold a pile of clean towels.
- Cook and bake in a safety-protected kitchen environment.
- Build objects from blocks or plastic plumbing tubing.
- Read books aloud in a small group.
- Organize household or office items.
The Case Study Proof
In an evaluation of Alzheimer’s awareness by the D.C. Office on Aging, four District of Columbia adult day centers practiced Montessori principles with 50 dementia participants over six months. The group members experienced decreased difficulty in carrying out activities and expressed more positive behaviors of smiling, laughter and enjoyment. One of the most notable results of the Montessori program: the dementia participants modeled a significant increase in helping behavior by interacting with others and reaching out to assist another group member or comment about their success.
Perhaps Dr. Montessori would be proud of the current application of her education style: uplifting the mood, self-worth and quality of life of dementia adults—who in many ways are still children at heart.
How has the Montessori method been helpful to you or a loved one?
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.
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