New Approach Can Lessen Symptoms of Dementia

Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A new approach to engaging residents with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia is gaining traction in the caregiving community, including at St. John Specialty Care Center and Passavant Community.

The Montessori method, which has been used for decades in educating children, involves designing learning activities for residents which engage their senses, to help them rediscover the world around them – a world they may be losing access to due to dementia.

Jamie Pease, dementia coordinator at St. John Specialty Care Center, explained that staff at all levels can engage the residents in activities that are familiar to them such as sorting clothing, arranging tackle boxes, pouring water into cups or scooping items from a bowl. As the residents become familiar with the task, the difficulty level is gradually increased.

“We notice results immediately. When they complete a task successfully, they feel a sense of accomplishment and pride,” Pease said, and behavioral occurrences due to stress and frustration can be lessened or eliminated.

Pease said she found that one resident especially liked arranging flowers into vases. She later learned, that years ago the resident used to work as an interior designer which explained why the activity was so calming for her.

“And that’s just one example,” Pease said. “We look forward to incorporating this with more of our residents, since it’s been working so well so far.”


One activity used in the Montessori method is sorting and matching, an activity which is enjoyed by St. John Specialty Care Center resident Julia Bowman.

“I love the concept of the Montessori method,” said Karen Russell, executive director of St. John Community, “and the idea that you can continue to learn even if you have dementia.”

Michelle Bobber, Allegheny Household coordinator at Passavant Community, agrees. She said that she and her team use the Montessori method to help keep her residents more engaged.

“We might ask the residents to sort items, clip together colored shower rings, or to slide shapes onto a stick – activities that mimic jobs or hobbies they practiced in the past – and they are happy to help. We always ask, ‘Will you?’ instead of ‘Can you?’ We get more engagement that way because it makes them feel as though they are being helpful, rather than being tested.”

Other benefits of the Montessori method can include an improvement in cognitive symptoms, increased concentration and alertness, and increased opportunities for social interaction.

“Yes, we need to primarily need to meet the medical needs of our residents,” Russell said, “but it is just as important for them to have their psycho-social needs met as well.” 

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