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How Montesssori-style, Multi-sensory Worship Influences

the Affective Experience of Women With Dementia

Note: This is the abstract of the pioneering research done by Diana Walters.  It is, of course, written with the technical precision that is required when doing academic research.  The full article is: Walters, D. L. (2007) The effect of multi-sensory ministry on the affect and engagement of women with dementia.  Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice.  6(2), 233-243.


Individuals with dementia find it difficult to engage in traditional religious worship programming that uses method—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.

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