7 Montessori Activities for Dementia Patients

July 11, 2016 Jim Concotelli, MSW, Ph.D., Director of Life Enrichment and Memory Care Programming

If you have a loved one diagnosed with dementia, you know it can be a lonely and difficult experience. Your loved one may be withdrawn and it can be difficult to find an activity or experience to engage with them. 

One way to engage with a loved one is by incorporating activities based on the Montessori Method. The Montessori Method places an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a person’s natural psychological, physical, and social development. Developed in 1897 for children with special needs, this teaching process is also being used for those diagnosed with dementia. 

Montessori activities are simple, modifiable, and practical. A caregiver sets up a simple activity, with everyday items and allows those with dementia to complete the task. If the task is too easy, the caregiver can increase the difficulty. Completing a task can lead to a sense of accomplishment, while reconnecting them with a part of their personal history. 

7 Montessori Dementia Care Activities
Here are seven simple ways to integrate the Montessori Method for dementia patients. 

1. Cognitive Skills
Cognitive activities can be performed in a variety of different exercises depending on the individual's abilities. You can incorporate trivia, discussions about current events, and other brain challenges for loved ones with higher cognitive abilities. These exercises may not be ideal for those diagnosed with more severe, long-term dementia as short-term memory begins to fade. Instead, simple puzzles like matching words with objects or identifying famous landmarks are other tasks that allow the mind to stay active. These puzzles are modifiable depending on the individual’s skill set. The important thing is to make sure your loved one is interested and engaged.

2. Life Skills
With dementia, an individual's short-term memory may fade, but often their long-term memories remain intact. You can incorporate your loved one's skills, history, and background into life skills activities. If your loved one worked on a farm or had a garden, you can plan an activity like sorting or planting seeds. This is a chore that could bring back memories from when they were younger. If your father was a handyman, simple activities involving hand tools, like using a screwdriver or wrench will allow your loved one to complete an activity using skills developed throughout their life. For those who were homemakers, activities involving baking, folding clothes, or household chores are popular, simple, and modifiable.

3. Movement
Purposeful movements have many benefits for your loved one. Activities involving a full range of motion with slow movements can be calming and help your loved one remain active. Try to incorporate slow, deep breaths into all movement activities. Have your loved one reach out to identify the part of their body. Depending on their physical limitations, you can have them seated in a chair of standing up. For those who are seated, have them motion like they are picking an apple from a tree, picking flowers from a field, or placing flowers in a vase. These movements are universal and can keep your loved one active and exercising.

4. Sensory
Sensory activities are important and can help keep the whole mind alert. For smell, use scented candles with aromas such as citrus, lavender, cherry or vanilla. Ask your loved one to identify the scent. For taste, have your loved one put their hands over their eyes. Line up three different types of fruit, have them take a bit from each and see if they can identify the fruit from it’s taste or texture. For touch, activities like identifying objects by picking them up are easy and adaptable depending on skill level.

5. Music
Music is a popular and effective way to engage those with dementia. Often, the part of the brain identifying music is one of the last affected. Listening to music, identifying songs, dancing with groups, and singing along with others are great group bonding activities. Patriotic songs and church hymns are identifiable and known by many, despite generational differences.  Simple interactions with music instruments, such as drumming or ringing a bell, can be useful, rewarding, and incorporate movement. 

6. Art
Those diagnosed with dementia still have a great amount of creativity. Have a loved one paint in a simplified setting. You can have them choose a picture they would like to draw, or have them try to copy a photo. This can be a group activity, where your mother or father works in a small group to use their creativity and express themselves. 

7. Socialization
Dining is a great way to socialize because it is an activity that is done each day. It allows them to interact with others and share experiences. Setting the table, having your loved one help prepare their favorite dish, or just having a conversation during a dinner makes everyone feel like they belong and encourages them to interact with others.

The Montessori Method can have tremendous benefits for people with dementia, as well as their loved ones. The activities are generally easy to set up, can be modified depending on a person's skillset, and customized from a person’s background, occupations and hobbies.  

To learn more about Enlivant’s Memory Care philosophy visit here.

montessori for dementia


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