DementiAbility: Montessori-based activities for persons with dementia

DementiAbility: Montessori-based activities for persons with dementia

This article is based on an interview with Gail Elliot, gerontologist and dementia specialist, who is the founder and CEO of DementiAbility Enterprises Inc.

Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging but caregivers are finding that Montessori-based activities for persons with dementia are helping.

You want the person in your care to get the most out of life but if they have dementia you may not be exactly sure of their abilities and limitations. It can be easy to make assumptions that someone with dementia is unable to do a certain task, but you may be underestimating just what the person with dementia in your care is capable of.

As a caregiver for a person with dementia, you may have encountered agitation, aggression, or hostility from the person in your care. These are all forms of responsive behaviours that tend to appear when needs are not met.

The DementiAbility method

The DementiAbility Method: The Montessori Way provides an outlet for meeting the needs of a person with dementia in your care through activities that expose the abilities of the person living with dementia.

DementiAbility is based on the principles found in Maria Montessori’s teaching methods and adapts them to be applicable to adults with dementia.

The method states that by preparing the environment, you are setting people up for success and enabling them to be the best that they can be. In doing so, you are creating an environment where someone with dementia can thrive through increased independence, higher self-esteem, and fulfilling a meaningful role in society.

“If we can create an environment that supports memory, supports abilities, and helps people to do things independently; then you’re actually not only maintaining function, but you often enhance function,” says Gail Elliot, gerontologist and dementia specialist who is the founder and CEO of DementiAbility Enterprises Inc.

According to Elliot, it all comes back to this principle:All behaviour has meaning.”

Validation therapy

An important component of dementia care, which works alongside DementiAbility, is validation therapy.

“Validation therapy focuses on validating the feeling. So if somebody says ‘I want to go home,’ are they really saying they want to go home? Or, that they miss their home because they’re lonely. Because they miss their family?” explains Elliot.

Once you establish what they are really trying to say and you validate their feelings, you can then move on to what they are able to do. By engaging the person you are caring for with an activity that highlights their abilities, you’re working to overcome their feelings of boredom, loneliness, and lack of independence.

Again it’s all about exposing the abilities of the person with dementia in your care.

Dementia and reading ability

The ability to read is something that people with dementia sometimes find challenging.

When someone with dementia shows signs of reading difficulty, take a look at the font size or the difficulty level of the text.

Using DementiAbility methods, this is easy to remedy by preparing the environment (larger font, easier material, etc.) and allowing the ability to be exposed. Doing so will give the person in your care a sense of success and enable them to complete a task or activity they may find enjoyable.

Memory cueing

There are many tasks that are often assumed that people with dementia can’t do, but the truth is that often they are physically able to complete a task; they just forget how to do it. By providing visual cues and validating their feelings you are helping to expose their abilities.

This is an intervention technique called memory cueing.  Sometimes the issue has more to do with not remembering what they need to do rather than the lack of ability to do the task.

An example of memory cueing is in the task of setting the kitchen table for a meal. Someone with dementia may not remember what needs to be put out on the table and where it goes. But, if you provide them with a template, they are able to complete the task successfully without having to rely on their memory.

Being able to successfully complete a task gives the person with dementia a sense of purpose and they feel as if they are contributing to the home. By providing clear memory cues “we’re not only maintaining function but also enhancing self-esteem,” explains Elliot.

Elliot describes the DementiAbility approach as a philosophy of care, where at times, you need to be a bit of a detective in order to really understand the dementia behaviour.

It’s important to keep in mind that every person with dementia is unique and you must tailor the approach you take to the interests and the ability level of the person in your care.

“Families can absolutely use these tools,” says Elliot. Folding towels, sweeping the floor, sorting items, or setting the table are all things that many people with dementia are able to do. As their caregiver, all you need to do is evaluate the ability level of the person in your care and then create a prepared environment by tailoring the activity to the individual. You will soon see the abilities expose themselves.

Teaching caregivers about memory and how the brain works is an important component of understanding DementiAbility.

“So we look at when memory is impaired — how do you support it? When it’s spared — how do you capitalize on that?” says Elliot of her teaching strategy.

For Elliot, the best sign of success with DementiAbility is seeing people who were formerly withdrawn now experiencing daily activities with smiles on their faces. Their days are full of engaged activity and they no longer feel bored, isolated, or without purpose.

At the end of the day they are not wandering or exit seeking and are ready to go to bed.

For more information on The DementiAbility Method: The Montessori Way, visit

Do you use any of these activities as you care for someone with dementia?


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  • Ann Quinn
    Fri Jul 05 2019, 19:23
    This is just fantastic to read, I have every single one of the above emotions and sometimes think am I normal at all, this is an excellent article and so true, thank you
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