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

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

Fifteen residents living in the Temperance-Munroe neighborhood of 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 and roles at a level that respects current cognitive, sensory, and motor abilities. Initial research suggests the method has potential to improve mood, reduce agitated behavior, and foster the maintenance or enhancement of certain abilities.

RR-2015-11-18-montessori-luther-careWhat 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 each resident’s individual interests so instead often focus on group programming that is likely to interest many, though not all, residents.

To support the work of recreation teams, Dr. 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 traveled. 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 to wrap a ball of yarn.

Murray 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 it’s 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.”

LSCH is looking at ways to sustain the program now that the summer pilot study has ended.

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 residents’ mood, agitation, and engagement in goal-directed activity.

The community-research partners will hold a workshop to share their experiences of the Montessori approach with other local long-term care homes on November 25, 2015.

For more information about Montessori programs for people with dementia, or to learn about training opportunities, please visit the Canadian website or the American website

Funding for this project was provided by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, and project co-investigators included Dr. Lilian Thorpe (Saskatoon Health Region and University of Saskatchewan) and Dr. Thomas Hadjistavropoulos (University of Regina).