A Montessori Approach to Dementia Care

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A Montessori Approach to Dementia Care

Posted on December 27, 2022

A fundamental shift to a Montessori approach is necessary in the way we provide dementia care for persons living with dementia. By any objective measure, the medical approach to dementia has been a monumental failure. This should not come as a shock to anyone who has been listening to statements that “a cure is 5 years away” for the last 30 years. It is time to fully commit to a departure from a mechanistic, reductionistic, disease-based view of dementia to a humanized, rehabilitation-based one. It is time to embrace the concept of person-centered care truly and completely. How shall this be done? What is a good path to this future?

On December 6, 2002, Linked Senior hosted an International Montessori for Dementia conference. What was the focus of this conference, and why was it so important to attend? To people who have been care partners of persons living with dementia, especially activity professionals, this conference was both insightful and a call to action.

At the conference, speakers from France described the effects of implementing Montessori approaches in dementia care. Participants heard about the transformative effects of engagement, self-determination, and a sense of community when provided for persons living with dementia. It is interesting to note that in France the job title of the activity professional is “Animator” – one who brings people to life. Communities trained by first speakers and their colleagues have residents in memory care who: greet new residents to their communities; interview perspective staff members; decide how they wish to commemorate the passing of their neighbors; give presentations to conferences of physicians on what life is like in their communities; learn new skills such a playing a piano; get the opportunity to hang glide over the Mediterranean Sea; etc. You might be thinking to yourself at this point, “I bet their residents are different than mine.” That probably is true – these residents in France have more advanced dementia than most of your residents.

In the second presentation, Dr. Cameron Camp, Director of Research and Development at the Center for Applied Research in Dementia, described research on this topic, and its translation into care practice here in the United States. Concrete examples were provided of how memory care residents stay connected with each other and with the outside world. Persons living with dementia want what persons without dementia want – to live in a home where they have choice; connection with their neighbors; connection with their families; a sense of community; engagement in meaningful activities; connection with the larger world; and something to look forward to in the future. Creating communities that provide these opportunities was the emphasis of the presentation.

The third presentation emphasized the universality of the Montessori approach, applying its values and principles to staff members. Again, it is important to emphasize the strengths of staff members rather than focusing on their weaknesses. A sense of community and trust must be established among staff members to enable them to apply Montessori approaches to residents. In addition, the best training possible given to staff is wasted if turnover is high. Now more than ever, a Montessori approach to engaging and empowering staff members is needed. Examples of methods to achieve these things and the results obtained by doing so, such as increased staff retention, were outlined. You can watch recordings of each of the three sessions here.

There is no drug that can provide a good quality of life for persons living with dementia. That is our responsibility. When a resident living with dementia has “a good day,” often this is viewed as a random event outside of the control of staff members. That is not true. The environments we create for persons living with dementia determine what type of days these persons (and those who provide care for them) have. We are not helpless in the face of dementia. Persons with dementia can live well or suffer, as is true for staff members, depending on what they experience during their days. It is time to reject a model of dementia that fosters suffering. It is time to say “enough.” It is time to take a new path. Come to our webinar and see for yourself what is possible. Come to join a revolution.


This blog post was written in partnership with Dr. Cameron Camp, Director of Research and Development at the Center for Applied Research in Dementia