Montessori for people with dementia

Caring for a loved one with moderate-to-advanced dementia often leads to bewilderment. And sadness. Perhaps your relative seems withdrawn. Or is fidgety, pacing, or wandering. They may seem to recede each day. How can you connect with them now? How can you keep them engaged?

Experts in dementia care are culling tips from pioneering educator Maria Montessori’s work with very young children. She developed activities aimed at meeting the individual’s interests and abilities. Activities that are enjoyable and stretch the mind without overwhelming.

Well-matched activities for persons with dementia generate positive feelings and have been shown to reduce agitation and other problem behaviors. People with dementia need pleasure and purpose too!

To engage your relative in a Montessori way, think about activities that stimulate the mind and/or body or senses. Then consider your loved one’s past lifestyle and hobbies. Did they involve

  • home. Activities might include setting the table. Folding towels and napkins. Matching socks. Caring for a doll. Arranging flowers. Peeling potatoes. Stirring a mix.
  • office. Provide a briefcase, paper and pens, file folders. Supply a newspaper or magazine, and if safe, blunt scissors to “cut out interesting articles.”
  • garage. Ask your relative to “do you a favor” and sort items, maybe buttons from screws. Give sandpaper and blocks of wood. Provide a junk gadget that can be taken apart “for repair.” Avoid small objects if your relative tends to put things in their mouth.
  • exercise and/or outdoors. Kick a beach ball back and forth. Toss beanbags at a target. Sweep. Rake. Load a wheelbarrow and move things.
  • games. Try easy jigsaw puzzles or building blocks. Match colors or numbers on poker chips, dominoes, or cards.

If an activity seems a fit, don’t hesitate to try it again soon. Chances are your relative won’t remember they’ve done it recently.