A Montessori environment has different activities and work sitting out on tables and shelves and encourages individuals to decide what to work on each day. This provides structure, but also gives the person independence, self-esteem and the knowledge that they are respected.
The Montessori for Aging and Dementia philosophy believes that people with dementia should be given every opportunity to make informed choices about their care, leisure time, clothing, food and anything else that affects their life. Providing choice will be done differently depending on the stage of dementia the person is experiencing.
Below are some examples of different types of choices related to daily tasks. The first choice offers the person with dementia a variety of options, the second choice is simpler and more straightforward. We hope these examples provide a starting point for you to look at any part of the day or any activity and think of a way to provide choice when you can. Everyone experiences dementia differently. You may need to try some of the ideas out and see what works best of you.
- Most options: Provide a closet of 10 selections of clothing for the week, plus options for specialty clothing like going to a fancy dinner or workout clothing. You can split up these sections with tags on the closet rod such as “Monday-Friday,” “Weekend,” “Workout,” etc. Ask the person to choose from the section that is appropriate.
- Simplest options: Each day, lay out two outfit options on the bed and let the person choose one. (It is okay if they then mix and match within those two outfits.) OR
- Gather most items such as bottoms, underwear and socks, but then give a choice on one item, such as choosing between two shirts.
- Most options: Choose two breakfasts, three lunches and five dinners with simple recipes, and the person can make whichever recipe they want for each meal.
- Simplest options: Provide a meal they like, but allow choice between two different drinks at each meal.
- Most options: For snacks, create a labeled and contained “Snack Area” in the pantry and in the refrigerator. In a bin in the pantry and refrigerator, place three to five different snack items to choose from.
- Simplest options: Choose a simple recipe and set up a work area with already measured ingredients and follow the pattern of putting one ingredient in a bowl, stirring, putting in the next ingredients, stirring, etc. until all ingredients are in, and the ingredients are stirred and ready to eat or bake.
- Most options: Let the person decide how often to take a shower or a bath. If you are assisting in bathing, try to observe these rituals and provide choice based around their natural pattern of bathing. Some people may not want to bathe if we keep insisting that they must wash their hair first and they normally wash their body first.
- Simplest option: At shower and bathing times, provide choice between two different smelling soaps during the shower or two lotions after the shower.
- Most options: Weekly, go over scheduling of work and other events to learn more about what the person loves to do and how they want to spend their time to help them not overschedule themselves and to be able to notice changes in the amount of events they can handle in a given day or week.
- Simplest option: Provide a general schedule, but each week or every few days, allow the person to choose between a few activities they would like to do, such as go out to a movie, shop at the farmer’s market, meet friends for coffee, etc.
Having choices allows us to have control over our lives. It enhances our self-esteem and our dignity. Please look for both great and small ways every day to enable individuals with dementia to make choices and express preferences about their life.