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Montessori tradition aids with the aged

By Jacquie Berg

12/09/2015

SASKATOON — According to Dr. Paulette Hunter, assistant professor of psychology at St. Thomas More College, residents living in long-term care often do not have adequate access to personally meaningful activity, and this has a negative effect on their quality of life.

From May through July, 2015, Hunter collaborated with Luther Special Care Home (LSCH) to facilitate a trial of a unique volunteer-assisted program to promote quality of life.

Fifteen residents participated in the program, which borrowed from the Montessori tradition in childhood education.

The Montessori approach is among several emerging models of care tailored specifically for long-term care residents with dementia. It emphasizes the opportunity to participate in personally meaningful activities at a level that respects cognitive, sensory, and motor abilities. Initial research suggests the method has potential to improve mood, reduce agitated behaviour, and foster the maintenance or enhancement of certain abilities.

Unfortunately, what is personally meaningful and suited to one resident’s needs does not always meet the needs of others. Given the finite resources available for recreational programming in long-term care, recreation teams are not always able to accommodate a resident’s individual interests. Instead, they often focus on group programming that is likely to interest many, though not all, residents.

To support the work of recreation teams, Hunter and LSCH project lead Murray Tempel recruited volunteers to learn about visiting “the Montessori way.” Eighteen volunteers committed to a minimum of 20 one-to-one visits with residents over the summer.

Hunter says that the volunteer-led activities catered to a wide range of interests and abilities. Some residents enjoyed reviewing a map of Canada with their volunteer visitor and discussing where they had travelled. Others enjoyed organizing electrical couplers and other parts in a parts organizer drawer, making a flashlight work, or playing a simple dice game. A female resident who had done a lot of needlework in her younger days greatly enjoyed simply having the opportunity to help wrap a ball of yarn.

Tempel says the program “is a fresh approach to providing meaningful moments for many of our residents. Our staff does a great job with recreation programming, but they find it difficult to give timely attention to everyone who needs it, each time they need it. Putting the Montessori research to good use, our volunteers interacted one-to-one with our residents in activities based on that person’s specific interests. If we continue to improve the present moments of our residents like that, it obviously means a lot to their families, too.”

Hunter’s team plans to publish a report on the feasibility of volunteer-delivered Montessori programming, and is also looking for possible effects of the summer program on residentsí mood, agitation, and engagement in goal- directed activity.

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