While there are ten Montessori Principles for dementia care that are the cornerstone of the Montessori Methods for Dementia that we teach, the first three can be applied by everyone to almost every interaction with people with Alzheimer's or dementia, every day. Montessori Dementia Care takes no extra time, just a little thought. By thinking about and using these principles every time we interact, we can add meaning and satisfaction to the person’s day and improve their quality of life.
So what are these principles?
The first principle is “Independence”. Simply put, this means letting the person with dementia do as much for themselves as possible. If the person is capable of buttoning their shirt, let them do it even if it takes a little longer and they mismatch the buttons. Let them add their own sugar and milk to their coffee, let them clean up if they spill something. The more that you do for the person, the more they are likely to withdraw and the faster they will lose their ability to do the task.
The second principle is “Choice”. We’ve talked about this before, but it’s a very important principle and easy to implement. When offering the person a book, let them choose from one of two that you have selected. Instead of just opening the curtains, ask them if they would like them open or closed (and then respect their answer). Simple things that take no more time than not offering choice but can make all the difference to the person. It helps them feel in control of their lives and adds meaning to their day.
The third principle is “Demonstrate”. Actions speak louder than words, especially for people with dementia. When you are helping dementia patients with something rather than telling them what to do, show them. Rather than explaining a task, demonstrate it.
Thinking about and using just these three principles in your day to day interactions can make a huge difference. The next two principles are more specific to each person.
The principle of “Familiar Materials” means that you should try to ensure that when interacting with each person you use things that the person will recognize. If someone was a typist, they would likely be familiar with a typewriter but they may not recognize a computer keyboard as being the same thing. If someone always shaved with a blade, they may not understand that an electric shaver does the same thing. The idea is to know a little bit about the person so that the materials can be selected appropriately.
The principle of “Meaningful” means that you need to ensure that your interactions have meaning to the person. Not everyone is interested in baseball, for example, so it would not be meaningful to have a discussion about the World Series with someone not interested in it. If a person always enjoyed watching musicals, putting on the Sound of Music video might be great for them. Others might not be interested, or even worse, may find it annoying. Knowing what is meaningful to each person, and respecting it, can make everyone’s day more enjoyable.
Applying these last two principles requires background information about each person which should be gathered from family members and made available to everyone using something such as our “My Story” that we talked about in the last newsletter.
We have written a series of blog posts about these and the remaining five Montessori principles for dementia care which you can read in our Learning Center.