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Elder Care: special attention for dementia

Posted Apr 27 2009 11:42pm
There was an interesting article in the New York Times Education section on Sunday Nov. 2. Titled Coming Full Circle, it describes the use of Maria Montessori's teaching techniques to create activities for elderly people with Alzheimer's and other memory deficiencies.

Some assisted living and dementia care facilities are now using the full-time program developed by Dr. Cameron Camp, an experimental psychologist. His program uses Montessori techniques to "build on existing skills and habits, with the goal of improving quality of life and independence by using cognitive strengths to neutralize weaknesses, making frequent use of repetition to create unconscious learning." More specifically, Dr. Camp says, "the key to working with someone (with memory deficiencies) is to build on the skills she has retained--writing, reading, playing the piano--rather than letting her deficits limit her life."

To quote further from the article,"A common misconception about people with dementia, Dr. Camp said, is that they no longer learn. But they do: residents learn to find their dining room table, for example, well after the onset of Alzheimer's disease. And because they no longer have the higher brain function they had as adults, he reasoned, they are well suited to Montessori."
A number of facilities around the country are now using the programs and materials developed by Dr. Camp through the Myers Research Institute in Beachwood, Ohio. Again, quoting Dr. Camp, "We start by saying that a person with dementia is a normal person with memory deficits. Then you can circumvent the deficits by using the strengths. That's how you create what Montessori called 'normalized environments,' meaning environments that challenge you but let you succeed."

I find this fascinating. What a wonderful approach to the dementia conundrum. Nobody per se is talking about restoring dignity or self-respect, but you can see from the description of these programs that that is the outcome.

My elderly mother who has dementia is in an assisted living facility that runs such a program, which they call Circle of Friends. My sister and I enrolled her in the program, but she had only negative things to say about it and refused to attend for more than a few minutes. In reading this article, I now think that perhaps she was still too disoriented by her recent move to assisted living and couldn't focus on the the activities. Her response was to say something insulting and leave in a huff. Now I'm hopeful that, as her memory loss progresses, she may actually be more acquiescent about staying in the program. I feel very lucky that she's in a facility that is forward-thinking enough to offer such a program.

If you are the caregiver of an elderly parent is in assisted living or Alzheimer's care, check if they have a program like this. And bring this program to their attention. The more places that offer this sort of program, the better! Here's the link to the article, which is worth reading in its entirety: www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/education/edlife/montessori.html?_r=1&ref=edlife&oref=slogin . This should take you directly to the article. If for some reason this link doesn't work, just go to www.nytimes.com/edlife and search the issue from Nov. 2, 2008 for the article Coming Full Circle.

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