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Montessori methods for dementia that encourage independence

14 March, 2024

The things that make us special don't disappear when our memory recall starts to change. Discover how Focus uses the Montessori approach to encourage independence, with activities based on a person's interests and strengths. We also give you some simple Montessori methods you can use at home to help a loved one living with dementia.

Living with dementia or Alzheimer's can be a very scary and frustrating experience. For the person with dementia, there's a real fear of losing sight of themselves, and the things that make them who they are. Sometimes, it's difficult for them to carry on doing certain activities due to cognitive decline.

As the family member of someone living with dementia, there are many ways that you can support them. By helping them to engage with a variety of different activities, you can empower them to restore a sense of self - a sense of a purposeful engagement.

Happy older couple share a kiss on the beach. Dementia activities & Dementia Care - Focus Care

How can Focus' innovative approach to dementia activities help?

At Focus Care, we know that people with dementia are all individuals. The activities we help them engage with can be done in their homes, where they are less likely to feel disoriented or confused. There is no “one-size-fits-all” list of activities for people living with dementia to do.

Instead, we have adopted a philosophy known as The Montessori Method for dementia and ageing. The goal of Montessori is to create persons who are as independent as possible, able to make choices and who are treated with respect and dignity. We work with the strengths of the person living with dementia, to enhance their quality of life.

Who is the Montessori method designed for?

This approach to montessori for dementia- and Alzheimer's care can be adopted for individuals or for groups. Everyone can benefit from Montessori, because it's a person-centred approach.

You can start putting ideas into practice at home. With knowledge of Montessori education, you can help your loved one unlock the right activities for them. When activities are tailored and meaningful to a person, their life is enriched.

The goal of the Montessori program is to create persons who are as independent as possible, able to make choices and who are treated with respect and dignity. Montessori enhances quality of life.

Why does Focus use the Montessori approach to dementia care?

People living with dementia in residential aged care homes can sometimes be overlooked. The Montessori Method recognises that every person has the right to a life full of excitement and purpose.

The Montessori method of dementia care enables people to stay at home, doing things for themselves. It gives them true choice, which in turn gives them power - putting them back in control. Meaningful engagement increases self-esteem, which can turn someone's whole life around.

We've seen the many benefits of using this approach. Collectively, we have plenty of experience in this area, and we know that it helps to slow cognitive decline.

The Difference Between Residential and Community Settings

Both residential settings such as an aged care facility and community settings such as your own home are suitable for the Montessori approach to dementia care.

While residential facilities may have a wider variety of materials and spaces specifically designed for Montessori activities, at home, Montessori activities can be highly personalised and focus on an individual's interests and abilities within their familiar environment.

In the home, family members often play a significant role in implementing the Montessori approach, tailoring adaptations in the home environment to their loved one's specific needs. It is for this reason that we believe the Montessori approach is so important in the context of home care.

How does Focus develop meaningful activities for those living with dementia?

Activities have to be meaningful to the person they're being created for. That means getting to know them. As the family member of someone with dementia or Alzheimer's, you'll hopefully already have insight. If not, be sure to find out this information.

At Focus, our caring team make effort to:

  • Find the person behind the dementia

  • Match strengths with personal history and passions

  • Foster social connections and friendships

  • Repeat activities to develop routine, build confidence and self esteem

  • Create meaningful roles and activities

  • Consider needs of the person

  • Provide signs, prompts and templates to support the person's memory loss

Older lady with camera. Activity for people living with dementia - Focus Care

How do you engage a family member living with dementia?

The key to engaging in enriching activities with someone living with dementia is to design activities around their interests. If someone worked in a particular field, or had a particular hobby, you can find activities to match. When you re-establish their old roles, you don't just restore responsibility, you actually remind them of who they are.

For instance, if somebody living with dementia loves animals, having a dog that they're responsible for looking after and feeding will often provide a sense of purpose and companionship. Take a look at the 5 best dog breeds we recommend for a person living with dementia.

For someone who loves flowers, you might accompany them for a walk around the neighbourhood to gather flowers and task them with arranging the flowers in a vase.

What should I consider when creating dementia activities?

We all have the same desires in life and we want to feel like we have purpose. We also love anything that brings us pleasure and provides meaningful engagement. People with dementia feel exactly the same way.

Dementia and Alzheimer's activities should be fun, and they should be meaningful. Ask yourself - would my loved one want to do this activity? If the answer is yes, it's probably a good idea!

You can also consider activities which can help restore independence. For example, helping your family member to do jobs around their home.

What activities might a person with dementia want to do?

There are so many activities suitable for people with dementia and Alzheimer's. We've listed a few ideas below.

1. Arts and Crafts

Creativity and self-expression is often used as a form of communication. Engaging with art can help an older person to connect with parts of themselves they felt they had lost. There are a broad range of activities within this sector; such as painting, drawing, photography and more.

Our Art Therapy sessions are fantastic for older adults and people with dementia. They assist with maintaining a person's fine motor skills and provide a safe and encouraging space for self expression.

Senior man painting while sitting on wheelchair in an art therapy session2. Cooking

Perhaps your nonna made the best authentic Italian food in the world when you were growing up. Or, maybe it was your grandad, making a British roast dinner that you'd dream of. There's no reason why they should have to neglect their passion for food because of their diagnosis.

With some simple modifications and assistance, they'll be cooking up a storm in no time! You can even reiterate your gratitude by asking them to teach you. They'll feel so valued.

Focus Care support worker cooking with senior client3. Gardening

Having a garden to maintain brings out a person's nurturing side. Gardens can be beautiful, functional or simply a place a person enjoys spending their time in.

4. DIY

Was your dad something of a handyman in his prime? If doing jobs around the house still interests him, there's no reason he should stop - and nor should his prime! You may need to manage the scope of the task so that it's not overwhelming, but you could use this opportunity to work on a home improvement activity together.

5. Caring for pets

There are many benefits to spending time around pets. As humans, we feel good about ourselves when we care for anything smaller and more vulnerable than we are.

Pet therapy is one avenue you could consider. It's known to decrease feelings of loneliness and depression among people with dementia.

Caramel coloured puppy. Pet therapy for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s - Focus Care6. Using a video and reflection resource

Helping your loved one to join some of the dots can be as simple as going through old photos. This may jog their memory and make them happy, remembering different times. You can do this over a cup of tea!

Be aware that sometimes, this could be a source of upset for your loved one, especially if they don't remember who somebody is. Don't panic, put the photos away - they may remember next time.

7. Playing with grandchildren

If an older person has grandchildren, there's nothing better than spending time with them. This should help them feel reconnected to family life.

Are there exercises suitable for people with dementia?

Yes! There is no reason why a person with dementia or Alzheimer's cannot exercise, providing that it is not more strenuous than they can handle. Exercises may include:

  • Swimming

  • Walking

  • Paddling at the beach

  • Zumba Gold, a modified version of Zumba dancing for seniors

  • Tai chi

  • Basic yoga

  • Bowls

  • Simple wheelchair-friendly exercises, if necessary

If your loved one is taking part in any physical activity, you need to ensure their home is safe. We have prepared a guide for making a home dementia-friendly, which should give you some tips.

What activities can help people living with dementia to stay independent for longer?

Lots of tasks around the home can provide a familiar comfort to those living with dementia or Alzheimer's. For those who are house-proud, it can also help them to feel more dignified.

Tasks around the home are essential for independence. By reiterating how to do the simple things, you'll help your loved one to feel safe and capable. These activities may include:

  • Making their bed

  • Setting the table

  • Washing up

  • Sorting out objects (such as cups and saucers)

  • Arranging flowers in a vase

  • Matching objects to pictures

  • Folding linen or clothes

  • Reading

  • Sweeping the floor

  • Feeding pets

  • Collecting eggs

  • Pouring drinks

  • Emptying the waste paper baskets

What are the outcomes of using the Montessori Method for dementia care?

By focusing on a person with dementia's ability to make choices and their independence, you're actually slowing cognitive decline. When you create an environment that supports their memory loss with the use of memory prompts, it helps to ground them.

The provision of meaningful activities allows people to feel valued and respected. Since they feel they're contributing to their community, their mental health improves. Other benefits of the Montessori Method may include:

  • Reduction in responsive behaviours such as lashing out

  • Improved family visits

  • Improved staff satisfaction

  • Improved sleep patterns

  • Reduction in the use of psychotropic medication

  • Better care outcomes for people living with dementia or Alzheimer's

How you can make a difference

Ensure that the environment you create for your loved one is positive, friendly and inviting. Don't patronise them - include them, and encourage them to perform tasks independently, to the best of their ability.

Always remember to use positive reinforcement, and thank them for their help. Ensure that they feel a sense of self worth and value.

Older lady doing crafts. Crafts for people living with dementia - Focus Care

What if the person with dementia doesn't understand?

If they don’t understand something straight away, keep your emotions in check. Anger or frustration won’t solve anything! Use signs or demonstrate the task required then invite them to repeat it. Don’t rush the person. If they’re not ready, just try again later.

The only barriers to changing the world of people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s are ones we create with our:

  • Attitudes

  • Old Cultures of Care

  • Misinformation about costs

  • Misinterpretation of legislation

How can specialised dementia care at home help your loved one?

Our in-house Montessori experts will get to know your loved one and help to make your home dementia-friendly. They will also take pride in designing activities based on your loved one's needs, strengths and interests. By assisting with this activity, support workers can help you to start to integrate Montessori methods into the life of your loved one.

We share your goals - we want to help them to stay independent.

Get in touch today

All of our support workers undertake Montessori based professional development so that they can best support older adults and engage them in purposeful activities.

For further information, please read about the Dementia Care that we so lovingly offer. To arrange an in-home assessment, contact us on 1300 941 750.

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