Mental Health Seniors

Embracing the Montessori approach for dementia care

Youville resident sits with child from the Montessori school, doing an activity together.
Youville resident Madeleine Kearns interacts with a child from the Montessori school located on site.

Providence Health Care’s (PHC) Youville Residence, which provides care to 42 people living with dementia and other illnesses, and hosts an adult day program for people with dementia, has embraced a Montessori approach in its caregiving efforts and through the co-location of a Montessori school on its campus.

Montessori method favours developing the innate interests and activities of students over formal instruction. It assesses their needs and capabilities, and challenges them enough to move a little outside their comfort zone, but not so much that they get frustrated and give up. The more their brains become engaged, the more opportunities for new information to become long-term memory.

Montessori for dementia care

With Montessori method, dementia caregiving shares a common goal of stimulating sensory perception in people with dementia to help them rediscover and participate in the world around them.

Dr. Cameron Camp, a noted American psychologist, pioneered the application of Montessori method for people with dementia that seeks to reactivate the types of memory which are spared by dementia, including motor memory such as how to dress and eat. While the behaviour of people with dementia may change as the disease advances, the long-term memories remain intact. Montessori method enables people with dementia to connect with those memories and pleasant events of the past and ultimately experience the associated happy feelings.

Use of Montessori method in memory care has been shown to increase levels of activity, independence, and quality of life in people with dementia.

As a result of receiving training in Montessori method for dementia, Youville staff have created toolkits of activities for residents, geared to build new neural pathways by retraining the brain. For example, they assign residents stacks of different coloured cups to sort according to colour. Others are given a sense of purpose and involvement by folding some of the residence laundry, putting cutlery away, or arranging flowers for the dining room tables.

Intergenerational Montessori learning

Interaction with children lends a whole new dynamic to daily activities for residents and what better resource for them than the co-location of a Montessori school on the premises? As a result, children from the school regularly participate in activities with seniors. One of the most popular is ice cream making which is done with large Ziploc® bags filled with crushed ice and salt. The residents help them and the effort requires a whole a lot of shaking.

PHC corporate director of seniors care Jo-Ann Tait with a Montessori school child.

“I always know when ice cream is being made because the resident peals of laughter are off the charts. They are mesmerized by kids shaking the closed Ziploc® bags, the expressions on their faces, how seriously they are taking it. Residents enjoy every single minute of it,” said Jo-Ann Tait, PHC corporate director, seniors care and palliative services.  

Tait says that children are naturals when it comes to interacting with people with dementia because they relate to people on a unique level. “It’s a deeper emotional connection formed through eye contact and touch. It defies language and conventional communications. To witness it is magic,” added Tait. 

Portrait of Madeleine Kearns.
Youville resident Madeleine Kearns loves spending time with the Montessori school children.

The lovely and gracious Madeleine Kearns, 82, has been a Youville resident for two decades and adores the time spent with children. Born in Toronto and having had a career as a stenographer, Kearns was resoundingly enthusiastic when asked about the positive impact of having a Montessori school so close to home.  

“Being with children makes me feel happy, feel loved and feel wanted. Seeing their smiles makes me feel I’ve done something good,” said Kearns.

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