While the Montessori method is most often associated with children, we have known for years that the elements associated with this method, such as the prepared environment, are also effective for older adults, particularly those with dementia. Research has found that implementation of the Montessori philosophy in long term care improves affect and positive emotions, increases elder engagement in leisure and daily activities, and improves staff satisfaction.1, 2
How can you incorporate the Montessori method’s elements to create a prepared environment for older adults that takes advantage of these benefits?
Building a Montessori Prepared Environment
1. The prepared environment for older adults is beautiful and inviting.
Residents of the care community should have a say in their environment. Encourage them to choose or donate displayed artwork and then change it out every month or so to maintain visual interest. Invite exploration and conversation with interactive displays, such as a suitcase full of travel souvenirs. Bring nature inside the care community as much as possible. Fill the area with plants and encourage elders to care for them.
2. The prepared environment for older adults facilitates freedom of movement and activity.
Provide snacks and beverages in a manner that encourages individuals to help themselves. Offer materials like cleaning supplies, watering cans, and unfolded laundry so that elders can choose to contribute to the community in meaningful ways. Make the outdoors accessible so residents can get exercise while enjoying the beauty of nature.
3. The prepared environment for older adults is rich with opportunities for meaningful engagement and socialization.
Make hands-on materials tailored to residents’ hobbies and interests available 24 hours a day. Display materials attractively on wheelchair-accessible open shelves. Invite individuals to use these materials through visual cues.
4. The prepared environment for older adults is organized, orderly, and clean.
Arrange the furniture in a way that allows for adequate movement space, carrying of materials, and placement on tables. Keep the environment uncluttered and free from signs, supplies, equipment, or materials that belong to the staff. Only materials that support the residents’ social, emotional, cognitive, or spiritual needs should be in the environment.
5. The prepared environment for older adults incorporates visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory cues to support memory impairment.
Provide wayfinding cues such as high contrast signage and landmarks for all destinations. Mark bedrooms with each resident’s name in large print and post a large photo of the individual that he or she recognizes. All members of the community, including staff and volunteers, should wear easy-to-read, high-contrast name badges in the same style. Offer name badges to family who visit often, as well.
Any environment can be simply and inexpensively modified to support elders’ independence, freedom, choice, and interests. For more ideas and information about incorporating Montessori elements into your community, please see the MedBridge course, “How to Incorporate Montessori for Aging & Dementia into Long-Term Care.”
- Brush, J., Douglas, N., & Bourgeois, M. (2018). Implementation of the Montessori program in assisted living: positive outcomes and challenges. Journal of Nursing Home Research, 4: 64-70.
- Douglas, N., Brush, J. A., & Bourgeois, M. (2018). Person-centered, skilled services using a Montessori approach for persons with dementia. Seminars in Speech and Language, 39(03): 223-230.