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Montessori is a method of education that was created with children’s development in mind.  Educators honor each individual child and make every attempt to create an environment in which they may learn and grow with as much independence as possible.  In recent decades, many people are recognizing that the basic ideals might support all people and shouldn’t be reserved for children alone.  Dr. Montessori herself described a fourth plane of development which stretched into young adulthood.

Did you know that there has been an interest among researchers who study the effects Montessori methods have on elder care patients?  In the past six years there have been at least eleven separate studies focused on just that.  It makes sense if you think about it; as we age we often require support, but caregivers typically want to find ways for aging adults to remain as independent as possible.

In this post we summarize just a few of these experts’ findings.

  • Caring for people with dementia in residential aged care: successes with a composite person-centered care model featuring Montessori-based activities

Roberts G, Morley C, Walters W, Malta S, Doyle C

In perhaps the first widely-recognized study of its kind, researchers focused on the ABLE model of person-centered dementia care as it was first implemented in Australia.  The model “incorporates Montessori principles and activities.  These aspects were designed to build on the capacity and inherent abilities of residents through a number of system changes at an organizational level”.  The system changes included changes in the physical environment, as well as training and introduction to new philosophies for all caretakers involved (who in this case are taking on the role as Montessori guides).  Additionally, the model requires gathering knowledge of patient backgrounds in order to better understand their individual interests and needs.  The results of the study included dramatic decreases in both antipsychotic and sedative medications, as well as significantly reduced aggressive and agitated behaviors.  Family members of residents provided enthusiastic and positive feedback to the changes, and researchers visiting the facility were able to observe the residents engaged in meaningful daily activities.  Staff expressed positive feelings toward the changes that were made, and measures indicated that they had a better understanding of dementia and patient care.

  • Join the revolution: how Montessori for aging and dementia can change long-term care culture

Bourgeois M, Brush J, Elliot G, Kelly A

This article introduces a new approach called DementiAbility Methods: The Montessori Way, an approach that “focuses on the abilities, needs, interests, and strengths of the person and creating worthwhile and meaningful roles, routines, and activities for the person within a supportive physical environment.”  The research sought a way to actualize goals of allowing autonomy and choice within elder care facilities; they were hoping to measure shifts toward “person-centeredness” of care provided.  DementiAbility Methods expands on the abovementioned ABLE approach.   One such addition includes the use of large-print name tags for staff, residents, and visitors.  Staff also connect with families to create memory books for each resident.  Lastly, there is a focus on routine and contribution to the community that has allowed residents to feel more engaged and have a sense of purpose.

  • Best practices for engaging patients with dementia

Volland J, Fisher A

Volland and Fisher highlight the increasing needs of dementia care in the United States, as well as providing specific, easy-to-implement ideas for caregivers.  They summarize the work if Dr. Cameron Camp of the Myers Research Institute, who developed Montessori-Based Dementia Programming (MBDP).  MBPD creates a bridge between traditional Montessori education for children and adults with dementia by applying the philosophy and methods to older people in need of memory care.  Some of the suggestions they present include:

  • Focus on the process of an activity rather than the product. They suggest that it doesn’t matter if the person completes a puzzle, but rather whether or not they are engaged with the activity.
  • Include Montessori activities in waiting rooms. They note that it is important to provide a variety of activities in order to meet a wide range of needs.  They also suggest that a clipboard with a one-page idea sheet can be given to caregivers upon arrival.
  • Incorporate music into acute care facilities. The music can be calm and peaceful, or it might be music that will be meaningful to the residents.
  • Create hospital welcome kits that include Montessori-style activities.
  • Create an activities cart that can be wheeled from room to room, providing patients with activity options.

The authors also emphasize the importance of fully understanding the Montessori method when employing MBDP.  They highlight principles such as “observing the individual to determine needs and interests…allowing freedom to explore within a safe environment in a positive manner…emphasizing practical life activities that promote sensory stimulation, control of movement, concentration, and coordination…providing choices in the selection of activities with the ability to repeat the action as often as needed.”  Sound familiar?

What do you make of the connections between traditional Montessori education for children, and its use in dementia care?  Are there specific materials or activities that you can see that would be particularly helpful for older adults, especially those in memory care?

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