Staff at nursing homes often struggle to engage residents without causing behavioral problems or triggering emotional reactions. One Central Michigan University (CMU) Speech-Language Pathology graduate student, Delainey Smyth, set out to fix this issue by using the Montessori method to improve skilled nursing care.
Read more about how the Montessori method is being used to help engage residents and improve their quality of life, as well as boost skilled nursing staff morale.
History of the Montessori Method
The Montessori method was initially developed for children and focuses on offering them a free choice from a set range of activities (with all of the materials for those activities readily available) and uninterrupted time in which to complete those activities at the child’s pace. While there is a wide range of Montessori goals and techniques, many of the strategies apply well to the needs of older adults.
Montessori focuses on building a sense of connection to the community as well as building self-esteem. Teachers seek to increase a learner’s communication skills, help them find and explore their strengths and present challenges that the learner can choose to try.
These goals can benefit people of any age, as long as the activities that are offered are adjusted to each person’s abilities.
How the Montessori Method Improves Skilled Nursing Care
When she brought Montessori methods to a nursing home, Smyth adapted the techniques, according to the Morning Sun. She provided the residents with a new space in which they could freely move and provided new items (including nature-based items) to encourage seniors to interact with them. Smyth also placed way-finding clues that reminded residents, especially those with dementia, about the possibilities in their space.
One example of a way-finding clue would be a sign placed above books and magazines to remind residents that they are available. According to a testimonial from Montessori for Dementia, such reminders engage seniors immediately. They also do so without requiring staff to take the time to remind each resident about the reading materials.
Other cues that might help alleviate a resident’s anxiety, include signs about what is scheduled for the day. Many seniors frequently ask when the next meal will be, or when their next walk will be, even if they have just finished a meal or returned from a walk.
The Montessori method also calls for a class schedule to be posted so learners can refer to it. Seniors benefit from a schedule posted close by, so that they can discover for themselves the time of their next meal or activity.
The Results of Montessori Techniques for Seniors
Smyth’s results were impressive. She found that seniors were more engaged in their activities and experienced improved self-esteem. Staff morale also improved.
Other research has been conducted on the use of Montessori techniques in nursing homes. This research has found that Montessori techniques decrease behavioral issues like constant requests for attention, pacing and wandering, which often develop in those with dementia.
The familiar activities provided through the Montessori method increase senior participation in both activities and their social lives. Seniors talk to each other when participating, which may help protect their communication skills and keep them engaged with their community for longer.
According to her interview with the Morning Sun, Smyth will be conducting a second study on Montessori methods in senior homes. This time, her goal is to incorporate activities that seniors may have enjoyed when they lived on their own, including cooking, gardening and laundry. Though often thought of as chores, many seniors do miss these activities and feel these tasks give their life more purpose.
Researchers are also looking into combining child and senior Montessori experiences, as intergenerational Montessori activities. One study had seniors with dementia present Montessori school lessons to preschool children and found that both children and seniors were more engaged in the activity than other age groups and that the group also expressed less problematic behavior.
Montessori, whether intergenerational or not, presents an exciting opportunity to improve skilled nursing care and increase the quality of life for both seniors and those who work with them.
Have you tried to use the Montessori method with a parent or senior loved one? What was your experience like? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.