The book, Remembering the Life of Jesus, was developed on the basis of principles of learning espoused many years ago by Dr. Maria Montessori in her startlingly effective work with cognitively disadvantaged children. Her methodologies—many of which involved multi-sensory activities—have become well established in early childhood education and are being effectively applied in Christian worship for children. In addition, another quite different application of Dr. Montessori’s principles is being pursued by a research psychologist, Dr. Cameron Camp, who has developed a variety of multi-sensory recreational and leisure activities for persons with Alzheimer’s disease.
Taking a cue from both these streams of research, Diana Walters set out to determine if multi-sensory methods could be used to facilitate Christian worship among older adults with dementia. It was a natural extension of her doctoral studies in gerontology, throughout which she had maintained a strong emphasis upon spiritual issues among aging men and women.
The goal was to provide a pattern by which dementia patients could more fully “connect” in an experience of Christian worship that would be meaningful to them. It was hoped that a design could be developed that would be easy for non-professional volunteer care givers to use. If so, this would enable churches better to serve the growing population of persons with dementia, persons for whom traditional “verbal only” methods of pastoral care were not particularly helpful (and which were often demoralizing to the care giver).
Several prototype methods were developed and given preliminary field testing. Then, the project became the basis of Diana’s doctoral research study, a rigorous empirical process that is thought to be the first carefully controlled empirical research on the delivery of spiritual care to persons with dementia. This research process and findings are briefly described in the abstract below.
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Abstract of the doctoral dissertation
THE EFFECT OF MONTESSORI-STYLE, MULTI-SENSORY WORSHIP ON THE AFFECTIVE EXPERIENCE OF WOMEN WITH DEMENTIA
Individuals with dementia find it difficult to engage in traditional religious worship programming that utilizes methods—such as sermons and responsive readings—that require sustained cognitive participation. Anecdotal reports of non-cognitive methods of ministry have been found in the professional literature, but apparently these alternative forms of ministry to people with dementia have seldom been systematically studied. No empirical research on this subject was found in the literature.
The purpose of this study was to devise two multi-sensory methods of ministry and test their efficacy for enhancement of the spiritual experience of women with dementia. Two variations of worship, each using Montessori-style multi-sensory elements, were compared with traditional ministry visitation that offered the same content verbally but without sensory interaction.
Twenty-four participants with mid-stage dementia were presented each of the three worship experiences. Observers, trained in the use of Lawton’s Observed Emotion Rating Scale, recorded time in seconds of observable pleasure (defined as smiles and laughter) and alertness (defined as eye contact) with lesson objects or with presenter, during ten-minute presentations.
The mean scores for both the pleasure and the alertness measures were lowest for the Traditional Ministry Visit (TMV) and highest for the Multi-sensory Ministry Visit-Book (MMV-Book) treatment. For TMV, MMV-Objects, and MMV-Book, the means for pleasure were 63.08, 263.12, and 325.08 seconds respectively, and for alertness were 462.50, 557.50, and 587.50 seconds respectively. Results were analyzed using Repeated Measures ANOVA and the Scheffé Multiple Comparisons Test. No effect for either the presentation order or observer was found.
Women with mid-stage dementia responded considerably more positively to ministry that utilized Montessori-style, multi-sensory techniques. The findings suggest that the level of involvement in spiritual worship may be heightened for women in this population by means of ministry experiences that stimulate multiple senses rather than being auditory only.