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The use of Montessori in dementia care

Understanding the type of memory loss

When memory loss is becoming a problem and has moved beyond what is considered usual at a particular age or with a certain condition, thoughts can naturally move towards whether a type of dementia may be the cause. With Alzheimer’s in particular, cognitive decline can be one of the first obvious changes that can occur, and this can lead to the person beginning to feel detached from daily life around them. As their dementia progresses, it will be important to ensure the person has meaningful occupation of their time, to prevent them becoming frustrated and socially isolated. To effectively care for someone living with dementia it is important to ‘get inside their world’, as only by understanding their reality can we truly provide care that is person-centred. Much research has been done into how the Montessori method – more familiarly used as a learning tool for children and young people – may also benefit someone living with dementia. The American Montessori Society describes it as keeping a person “as independent as possible, to engage in purposeful and meaningful activity, and to have social roles within a community connected with the larger world.”

What is the Montessori method?

If you’re unfamiliar with the Montessori method then it’s important to learn some background on the subject to see if it is suitable technique for you or your loved one’s dementia journey. Maria Montessori honed her method for letting children direct their own learning, based upon their interests and abilities, in the early 20th century. This allows the individual to develop at their own pace and in their preferred direction, rather than the ‘one size fits all’ approach that traditional education often dictates. The style of Montessori teaching, according to Alzheimer’ “centers on not challenging the students — you don’t want them to become frustrated and give up — but rather, making the task a little beyond their comfort zone, so they still have the opportunity to improve.”

How the Montessori method can be utilised

Research has been ongoing as to how the Montessori method can be utilised for people living with dementia. It’s been suggested that by giving the person small, practical tasks to do that they may have done in earlier life – such as folding washing or arranging flowers – it can help to stimulate the long-term memories that are usually still present as dementia advances. This can help the person to feel less isolated and cut-off from others and the outside world, as well as helping them to experience the pleasant feelings of the task at hand, for instance the joy they used to get from seeing a beautiful flower arrangement, or the satisfaction at a basket full of tidy, folded laundry. It’s well understood that the part of the brain that controls emotion and feeling – the amygdala – isn’t damaged by dementia in most cases, so even though the person may not have the accompanying memory close at hand they can still experience how they felt when it occurred. This will help the person to feel calmer, less anxious, and less isolated in their world, and lead to a better understanding of how to assist from the people around them.

How caregivers use the Montessori method

When caring for someone living with dementia it’s vital that we always remember the person is still ‘present’; they’re not defined by dementia – they are still the same person and everything we do should be focussed on connecting with that person.

It’s essential that every aspect of a person’s needs are considered when they’re living with dementia, such as identified by Thomas Kitwood’s ‘Flower’ model that he developed through pioneering work with dementia patients. He identified several fundamental psychological and social human needs, and felt that to maintain a good sense of well-being, these human needs must be met. These include identity, comfort, and occupation. By understanding these needs and ensuring that we take them into account when carrying out dementia care, we can ensure that the person we’re caring for gets to live their best quality of life possible. Keeping someone occupied will help them feel like they have worth and purpose in life. By giving them occupation, through tasks that are meaningful to them, it will ensure that they avoid isolation or feel excluded from daily life. As Alzheimer’ tells us, “What we’re increasingly learning is that those with dementia can come to not only enjoy the process of participating in something they used to regularly do, but also come away with a definite sense of accomplishment that can help improve their quality of life.”

For instance, if someone always enjoyed baking and cooking then their carer should encourage them to do so, with support, as long as necessary safety precautions are taken. If the person has cooked throughout their life, then the long-term memories of doing so will still be accessible, and they will most likely get an enormous amount of pleasure from undertaking such an instinctive activity. Other potentially suitable activities include sorting items, matching shapes, wooden puzzles, and something that may stimulate memories of a job they used to do, such as connecting plastic tubes, or typing. For advanced dementia, research has shown that doll therapy is often successful. The person may form an emotional attachment to the doll as it stimulates long-term memories of when they had a baby or young child, fulfilling not just the ‘occupation’ requirement of Kitwood’s flower but also attachment, love, and comfort.

How Helping Hands can help with dementia care

We’ve been delivering exceptional, person-centred dementia care since we were founded in 1989, so when we’re described as the dementia home care specialists you can trust that it’s accurate. We design a personalised package of care for all of our customers, recognising that everyone is an individual and there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ in home care. We understand how dementia in all its forms can affect someone and their loved ones and will get to know your condition carefully so that we can always support you in the best way possible. Remaining in comfortable and familiar surroundings for your dementia care will ensure you have a much more personalised experience, as being around people, pets, and possessions that mean the world to you will ensure your emotional wellbeing. Our carers will follow the routine that you or your loved one is used to and wants to continue with, maintaining their independence and quality of life for as long as possible.
Because we have 150 branches across the whole of England and Wales, we can offer dedicated live-in care or visiting care, often within 24 hours. We’re proud that all of our branches are owned and managed by us – we don’t operate franchises – as well as fully regulated by the Care Quality Commission and Care Inspectorate Wales.