Dementia: Why Montessori works so well.
Whenever I hear the phrase ‘Montessori Method’ I immediately think of the Montessori school that’s not far from my house. It’s in a lovely natural setting with lots of trees and fields, flowers and wide open spaces. The building is a beautiful, old Victorian mansion that sits well back on the property.
Whenever I go for a walk that takes me that way, I always look to see what the children are up to. It seems quite different than the usual learning environment and the children are always happily occupied doing whatever the particular activity might be.
Even from a distance, you can see that the children are carefully observed…not just supervised.
As Cameron J. Camp PhD, Director of Research & Development for the Center for Applied Research in Dementia discovered more than 20 years ago, the Montessori Method isn’t just good for kids.
He determined that it could be adapted as an amazing approach to be used in memory care for adults. What a wonderful breakthrough for the cognitively impaired!
The adapted Montessori approach is now widely accepted as a positive force for improvement in memory care.
The materials and activities used in the approach focus on remaining capabilities. Although there may be averages and norms, people with dementia lose capabilities at different rates. So, the focus is on using what remains for a particular person…not what is missing.
Everything is created with the purpose of forming a part of an overall environment that is designed for the developmental stage of those afflicted and with the understanding that some people with cognitive disorders will get better at doing certain things provided they have the opportunity to practice.
At any stage of life people generally want to be independent. We want to engage in purposeful activities and enjoy a social life in a community that we find safe and comfortable.
Persons with dementia aren’t different in those respects. They just don’t find it as easy as those without cognitive disabilities. They don’t find it as easy as they once did.
Which brings us to the specialized training needed for people who care for and engage with persons with dementia.
Of course, the memory care provider must understand that respect, dignity and equality must be ever present and that those values must guide them in all interactions with the afflicted person.
And they must learn that there are certain things that are very important in providing the kind of care and experience that will benefit the afflicted person, their loved ones and the care provider.
Things such as addressing the afflicted person face-to-face and at their eye level and providing choices for just about everything must be practiced without fail, during every interaction.
All of us want to be safe. To the person afflicted with dementia, safety is paramount.
The person providing care must pay close attention while observing how the afflicted person reacts to, engages with and perceives what’s going on around them.
The purpose of observation in the memory care setting is to determine how best to utilize the materials to help the afflicted person engage comfortably and without fear and, also, to understand which activities best support the patients’ abilities.
Paying close attention while observing afflicted individuals will help care providers understand how they express their feelings and gain insight about their state of mind.
The goal we want to achieve through observation and understanding, is to create a safe and supportive environment which minimizes fear and allows the afflicted person to thrive.