by Terry Hurley
In many cases, Montessori activities for the elderly help to keep seniors with dementia happier and more productive while boosting their sense of self-worth.
The Montessori approach to learning is based on the educational theories of Maria Montessori, an Italian educator. This method places great importance on adapting the learning experience to the developmental level of the child. Learning takes place through repetitive, no-fail methods that are adapted to the individual’s specific needs. There is great emphasis on developing fine motor skills and concentration, and building self-esteem.
The following are several of the main principles of the Montessori method of learning:
- Each person must be considered as a whole. All aspects of the individual are equally important and inseparable regarding his or her interests and needs. These aspects are:
- It is necessary to show and have respect along with a caring attitude for everyone, including oneself, all life and the environment.
- A cooperative atmosphere, peer teaching and social interaction are important for learning to occur.
- Learning takes place through sensory processes that include manipulating objects and interaction with other people.
Modifying the Montessori Method for the Elderly
Many nursing homes, elder care facilities and elder daycare centers are adapting the Montessori methods to their clients suffering from varying degrees of memory loss and dementia caused by conditions such as:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
These individuals are given meaningful activities that build upon on their remaining skills and abilities. The Montessori methods can also be used with individuals that have physical, mental or physical and mental types of disabilities. Activity programs that are Montessori-based help to give the elderly suffering from memory loss a sense of task completion and success. These programs often help to reestablish recognition skills and enhance an individual’s memory.
It is important that tasks are broken down into several smaller tasks, or steps. This helps the individual establish success and lessens the chance of forgetting a step. Key factors in having the individual achieve a successful outcome to an activity include:
- Positive reenforcement
- Including as many of the five senses in the performance of the activity as possible
Examples of Montessori Activities for the Elderly
There are many types of Montessori tactile materials that can be used with the elderly including:
- Reading materials that are printed in fonts that are large and easy to read
- World flags
- Letter recognition blocks
Caregivers often are able to find activities that relate to a former hobby, interest or job that the individual enjoyed in their earlier years. The activity still must be broken down into smaller tasks to ensure that the individual achieves success. If the task is still not possible, it needs to be modified until it is possible for the person to perform it successfully.
The following are several examples of how Montessori-based activities have been adapted to use with elderly individuals.
- Practice buttons, hooks and buckles on a colorful piece of material using large-sized items
- Practice opening a lock attached to a wooden box.
- Matching plastic fruit they hold to pictures on a cloth or place mat.
- Placing three different colored balls into matching cups. If the task it too difficult, one color of the balls and cups would be removed. If it is still too difficult, only one color would be used until the person was able to achieve success with the task.
Resources for Using Montessori Activities for the Elderly
- Montessori-Based Activities for Persons With Dementia by Cameron J. Camp is available at Amazon.
- The Montessori Foundation article titled Lost Skills Come Back: Montessori Method Aids Alzheimer’s Patients by Bea Mook.
As Montessori activities for the elderly become more popular, people will recognize the value and benefits of these programs. Many will initiate them into more facilities helping some of the elderly population that suffers from dementia to regain lost skills with a sense of dignity and pride.