For several years now, more and more mothers have been discussing the Montessori method when it comes to raising their children. The method is relatively new (developed in the early 20th century by the Italian doctor and educator Maria Montessori) and as such has its zealous advocates and vice versa – groups of people who doubt its effectiveness and trust the traditional educational approaches. There is no right or wrong choice. Montessori was “born” as an alternative to a system that has not changed its methods for centuries, and over time the new approach has made increasing progress.

Montessori is based on the idea of educating children from an early age. It encourages them to be active, make decisions and learn about the world around them through play. According to the Montessori method, children can gain knowledge and experience in a way that is better for them. Therefore, we should not accept children as equals and expect them to do equally well in school, for example, but to approach each one who has difficulties in a particular area individually. That is also why, according to this approach, children are not separated by age, as we are used to in traditional education and here, they feel more freedom and peace. They are not stressed by a test or a bad grade they may get. The teacher is more of a mentor who will not scold but will encourage them even if they make a mistake. Tested and applied for over 100 years, the Montessori method has been proven to stimulate the physical, mental, emotional and social development of children.

You may be surprised, but lately this new educational approach has been useful not only for children. It caught the attention of societies that provide individual care for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and they successfully adapt it for people who have special needs to preserve themselves, their memory and to lead the best possible way of life.

The link between Montessori and dementia

For those of you who have looked dementia straight in the eye, namely have a parent or relative with dementia, know how difficult communication can sometimes be. At this point we should not “go out” of ourselves, we should not allow emotions to control us, but to approach the situation calmly.  The same way you would do with a child. When working with children, you must take into account their capabilities and needs. What are they able to do? What do they generally like to do? Once you answer these questions, you find the balance between their current state or mood and the task they have to perform. If the challenge is too great for them, they will be disappointed. On the other hand, if it’s something small that won’t take them long, they quickly get distracted and bored. The trick is to give them a task that will take them out of their comfort zone, give them a chance to try and upgrade. The same is true for people with dementia.

Montessori’s method of caring for adults has a similar purpose – to engage the senses to help older people with the disease to rediscover the world around them. Providing the most effective care means increasing the ability of these people to reconnect with a world to which they are losing access. Assistants in nursing homes and researchers of the method are increasingly finding that sensory experiences, such as art or music therapy and physical activity, give dementia sufferers positive emotions that they have lost the ability to experience over time.

As you know, as dementia progresses, adults may become paranoid and confused, but in many cases their long-term memories remain intact. The Montessori method aims to connect exactly these memories. Giving fresh flowers and an empty vase to an adult loved one can help him get out of the feeling of momentary isolation and “enter” a beautiful spring day, because the experience of placing flowers in a vase is enough to recall a past memory related to flowers or spring. The personal approach and positive attitude that are characteristic of Montessori help assistants in nursing homes or relatives of people with dementia to reconnect with fond memories of the past and relive them.

How to Montessori method is applied in practice in memory care

Dr. Cameron Camp, a psychologist, asks the following question about people with dementia: “How can we connect with someone who is still here?” The answer to this question is the Montessori method, and in particular its use to engage the memory in humans that dementia “attacks”. In most cases, specifically the motor memory (how we dress and how we eat). One of the successful and interesting examples is the skills building activity that Dr. Camp applies. For this purpose, he gives a slotted spoon and a bowl full of rice on the surface and various objects on the bottom. Patients should scoop with a spoon and find the “treasure” at the bottom. So as soon as they pick it up, the rice falls through the cracks, leaving only the specific object on the spoon. In this seemingly simple process, their brains are re-learning the motor skills we need to eat. “Our job is to allow the person to be present. To help him anywhere on the path of dementia, to be connected to the community and to feel useful”, said Dr. Camp.

Montessori activities are simple, practical and can be modified according to the person who needs them. The assistant, or anyone close to you caring for dementia sufferer uses everyday objects, creates a task with them, and allows the person being cared for to complete the task. If it is easy, the difficulty may gradually increase. Performing a riddle or exercise will make them feel proud, and it can also evoke memories. Here are four easy ways to integrate the Montessori method into memory care.

Cognitive skills

We start with the activities that will keep the brain active. As you know from other Blocks articles, puzzles, connecting words with objects or recognizing famous places and popular landscapes are recommended. An interesting activity that can be applied without any effort is to ask your parent or relative to help you with the laundry – let them arrange the socks in pairs or towels by color. It may sound funny or absurd, but the most important thing is that he just stays engaged, interested in the world around him.

Sensory skills

Sensory skills are important and keep the mind alerts. Try scented candles, for example – take citrus, lavender, cherry or vanilla. Ask you loved one to guess the scent or describe what it smells like. He will surely remember something else. Try the taste. Arrange three different types of fruit, have them take a little bite of each, and ask them to identify the fruit by taste or texture.

Music

Music is a popular and effective way to engage the attentions of people with dementia. Often the part of the brain that identifies music is one of the last to be affected. Listening to music, recognizing songs, dancing with groups and singing with other are great activities to make friends with the group.

Socialization

Eating is a great way to socialize because it’s an activity that is done every day. It allows them to interact with others and share experiences. Setting the table, helping to prepare a favorite dish or just talking over dinner helps people with dementia to feel belonging to this world, to participate actively and most of all to feel that their presence makes sense.

In many nursing homes and memory centers, special programs called the Montessori Method are already being set up. In them, each exercise, task or activity is tailored to the individual abilities of patients with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. In Bulgaria, we are not lagging behind as well, although there is no special “open” program in which it is announced “We work according to the Montessory method”.  At Blocks Adult Care, the practices we described above are performed on a daily basis without being part of a special schedule or without targeting a specific group of people. They are part of the daily routine of all residents as soon as they are introduced to the assistants and as soon as they understand what they like to do – is their strength in cooking, sports or crossword puzzles? Maybe they sing well or at the time they danced in an ensemble? The right approach is felt as soon as we feel the attitude of the person, and the basis of success is the team that is ready to take on the role of mentor, encouraging “students”, regardless of their age. Does this approach sound familiar to you?

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