Montessori method enhances quality of life for aging adults

The Montessori method of learning is most often attributed to adolescents, but there’s significant evidence proving this philosophy impacts learning in aging adults, especially those with dementia and cognitive disorders.

One local provider is earning national recognition for innovative work in Montessori-focused dementia care. Hillcrest Health Services earned the 2019 Silver Award for Innovator of the Year in the McKnight’s Magazine Excellence in Technology Awards. In addition to receiving this 2019 Silver Award in the Innovator of the Year category, Hillcrest also received a 2018 Gold Award in the Quality category last year.

Hillcrest is one of the first to integrate the Montessori philosophy into the daily lives of memory support residents. Anna Fisher, Ph.D., Hillcrest’s Director of Education & Quality, says the concept has been adapted to engage individuals with dementia by stimulating the mind with activities and outings that use fine motor and cognitive skills, and build self-esteem.

Nine years ago, Hillcrest entered into a partnership with The Roberts Academy, the only secondary Montessori school (grades 7-12) in Nebraska.

“We started a study to see the psychosocial aspects of the Montessori students interacting with the residents, and evidence has shown that the program can enhance the quality of [the residents’] lives,” Dr. Fisher said. “They engage the residents, the team, members of the community and families of the residents.”

What began as a once-weekly intergenerational opportunity at Hillcrest assisted living communities is now daily interaction, as the Roberts Academy has moved into Hillcrest’s Silver Ridge location in Gretna and is believed to be the nation’s first Montessori secondary school (grades 7-12) located in a health care setting.

“The Montessori philosophy is based on respect and dignity for all individuals and provides a prepared environment conducive to learning and engagement,” Dr. Fisher said. “It encourages purposeful work that meets people where they are, providing a sense of community and belonging.”

At Silver Ridge, The Roberts Academy students introduce and demonstrate each activity to residents, providing visual cues. Residents then choose the activity they would like to do. There are also many opportunities for the residents to experience learning opportunities and community connections off campus through outings and volunteer activities in the community.

“The residents stay connected to their community with the help of the students” Dr. Fisher explained. “They have completed projects to help the homeless, local fire departments, organizations like Youth Emergency Services (YES), and they have toured local sites like the Joslyn Art Museum. With the students’ support, the residents get so much more out of these community experiences and feel a greater sense of belonging.”

For more information on how Hillcrest utilizes the Montessori method in dementia care, visit Learn about The Roberts Academy by visiting