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Section 1 | Introduction

this photo definitely nees to be re-shot

much too low-resolution and grainy

Brush Development Company

“Do not tell them how to do it.

Show them how to do it and do not say a word.
If you tell them, they will watch your lips move.
If you show them, they will want to do it themselves.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
Person-Centered Best Practices
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who pioneered an
approach to education that builds on the way children naturally learn. She
created learning environments for children in which everything was suitable
for their stage of development and where obstacles to learning and
development were removed. She observed how children absorb knowledge
from their surroundings, essentially teaching themselves. Through scientific
study, she designed learning materials that nurtured children’s natural desire
to learn. She was an innovator, feminist, and idealist who believed that the
path to world peace was through education of children.
Courtesy AMI,
Dr. Montessori did not design environments for older adults, but researchers,
clinicians, and architects have contributed to a large body of evidence that has resulted in aging
and dementia care guidelines. This guide combines Dr. Montessori’s philosophy of learning and
living with person-centered aging and dementia care best practices. Through many years of
experience as clinicians, researchers, Montessori parents, and Montessori educators, the author
and her team have successfully implemented the Montessori philosophy in long-term care and
individual homes throughout the world.

The result is our interpretation of Montessori for Aging:

To enable elders to be as independent as possible, engaged in a meaningful life, doing
things they love, with people they enjoy, in a supportive environment.

AUTHOR NOTE: This guide offers tips and direction

to care partners who wish to use the Montessori The Montessori Philosophy
philosophy with older adults and individuals living
with dementia. The author feels that in-person •  espects the person and one’s
learning and community mentoring through the contributions to the community
Montessori implementation process is the most •  ncourages observation in order
effective way to impact quality of life for our elders. to learn about the person
To that end, Brush Development offers a variety of
in-person workshops and online learning to provide a •  ncourages independence in a
firm foundation in Montessori for Elder and Dementia prepared environment for elders
Care. This guide is meant to be helpful both to
• Provides meaningful work for elders
those who have participated in training already
and to those who are interested in learning about •  eminds us that learning and
this life-changing philosophy for person-centered engagement can occur anywhere
engagement of elders.

Section 1: Introduction 1
The Importance of Meaningful Engagement
Before you begin reading this guide, take a few minutes to compose five responses to the
following statement:

When I am 80, I want to be able to:






Now, think of an older adult with whom you work, are friends with, or love. Do you know what five
things are on that person’s list? Older adults and people with dementia still want to continue doing
the same things they enjoyed when they were younger. Their list has not changed just because
they are older!

An elder or person with dementia still has the same needs as everyone else. The person wants
to socialize, express desires, participate in hobbies, interact with family, be included in activities,
teach and learn, and be asked for advice. The person has the same desire to contribute to the
household or the community. The need to have purpose in one’s life and to be productive does not
end once someone reaches a certain age, moves into a long-term care community, or receives a
diagnosis of dementia.

A care partner’s role is to serve as a guide to help elders engage in all of the things they love
to the very best of their abilities. The Montessori philosophy is one way of achieving that active
participation in life.

The activities and roles listed in this guide are just a selection of the variety of possibilities of
person-centered activities and roles that older adults can enjoy. This is meant to be a starting point
of suggested activities for those who want to begin to implement the Montessori philosophy of living.

You will soon discover that Montessori isn’t a specific time, it’s a way of life. Purposeful and sat-
isfying activities and roles happen as a normal course of the day on one’s own or in small groups.

The Montessori philosophy is not a technique, task, or intervention. It’s a way of living one’s
life to the fullest extent possible.

2 Section 1: Introduction
Key Components of a Montessori Community for Aging
Montessori is based on the principles of free choice and purposeful activity. In a Montessori
community for older adults, individuals with a wide range of abilities work both individually and
collaboratively on an array of activities from which they are free to choose, explore, and discover.
Elders have freedom to move within the community, and to engage in household roles and respon-
sibilities, guided as needed by trained Montessori staff. Montessori focuses on the well-being of
the whole person, including physical, spiritual, social, mental, and emotional needs. This means
that the community should offer opportunities for new learning, religious practices, meditation, art,
music, exercise, etc. Each of these components is considered equally important, as shown in the
graphic below.

Section 1: Introduction 3
There are several main components of a Montessori community that are summarized below.

Prepared Environment
The prepared environment is designed to facilitate
maximum independence and exploration by all members
of the community. Hands-on activities and materials
are accessible to elders 24 hours a day. The commu-
nity is considered the elders’ home, and every effort
is made to remove staff supplies, medical equipment,
from the community spaces. This allows elders to feel
ownership for their space, encouraging participation in
care of the community.

Freedom of Movement Foothills Retirement Community

Elders choose where to sit and what to work on, with

guidance or assistance as needed from care partners. They are encouraged to move about the
environment rather than remaining seated or in one place all day. This helps elders to maintain
balance, fine and gross motor skills, and overall healthy functioning of the body’s systems. Whereas
the loss of physical abilities is accelerated in many long-term care communities, movement is
encouraged in the Montessori setting, allowing elders to maintain and strengthen the physical
abilities and skills needed to remain independent.

Hands-On Activity
Elders work with both specially designed materials and everyday
items found around the home. Activities are hands-on and often
involve movement and sensory stimulation. Each activity has
multiple purposes. These may include strengthening gross or
fine motor skills, maintaining hand-eye coordination, developing
sustained attention on a task, or providing sensory stimulation.
Some activities focus on the preliminary skills needed to maintain
aspects of independent living, such as pouring, spooning, buttoning,
and zipping. The purpose of an activity may also be artistic
expression, enjoyment, or the satisfaction that comes from making
a meaningful contribution to the community.
Foothills Retirement Community
Intrinsic Motivation
Humans are born with an intrinsic desire to explore and learn. Rather than focusing on keeping
elders “busy,” the prepared environment provides opportunities for choice, independence, and
meaningful engagement. When elders are free to follow their interests and meet their own needs,
they feel fulfilled rather than bored. A Montessori household takes on a busy “hum” of movement,
activity, and collaboration.

Dr. Montessori observed that after a period of intense concentration, working with materials
that fully engage their interest, children are not exhausted, but emerge refreshed and contented.
She called this state “normalization.” With regard to elders, we think of normalization as joyful
engagement in work that one finds satisfying. Care partners do not interrupt elders’ concentration
when engaged in meaningful activity and only offer assistance when it is needed.

4 Section 1: Introduction

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