One Australian is diagnosed with dementia every six minutes, and the problem is only getting worse because of Australia’s ageing population.
Villa Maria Catholic Homes has spent the past 12 months introducing the person-centred Montessori practice to support people living with dementia at its residential aged care communities across Victoria.
With reported outcomes in aged care that includes significant drops in medication use, residents sleeping better, drops in aggression and reduction in falls– Montessori in aged care is changing lives.
So what is it?
While Montessori is traditionally associated with early childhood education, in aged care it aims to support individuals in a practical, respectful and enriching way. They are encouraged to be as independent as possible; to have a meaningful place in their aged care community, make choices and useful contributions in their home.
All staff at VMCH have received training in the principles of Montessori by Managing Director of Montessori Ageing Support Services, Anne Kelly, who has introduced the practice to services across Australia.
Anne is also overseeing the implementation of the practice at VMCH’s 12 aged care communities.
“Creating a Montessori environment encourages people to continue to do as much as they can and have always done, with support if needed,” Anne said.
“What we have found is that people are more alert, that they’re awake, that they’re smiling more, that they’re happier.”
Montessori environments are rich in opportunities for individuals to do as much for themselves as they can. This can be as simple as making their own beds, dressing themselves and assisting in chores within the residence.
Aged care support staff also create opportunities for individuals to engage in activities that reflect their personal preferences. They do this by learning about each individual’s history, their likes and dislikes, and what is important to them.
Families are encouraged to create a memory book for their loved one living with dementia in aged care and to place important items around their room. This helps staff to gain a better understanding of the individual they are supporting.
Another important part of Montessori is creating an environment that supports people living with memory loss. That is why staff and residents are encouraged to wear a name badge with people’s first name in large print, a plain background and high-contrast colours. Signage around VMCH aged care communities feature high visibility colours – large black print with yellow backgrounds.
Creating a home environment that supports people experiencing memory loss through visual aids and repetition can make a huge difference to their sense of well-being.
VMCH’s aged care communities are also introducing self-serve buffet-style food services. The aim is to allow individuals to serve meals and drinks for themselves and not have to adhere to a strict meal timetable.
VMCH recognises that dementia has a huge impact on not only the person diagnosed, but also their family and friends. That’s why VMCH works in partnership with the person living with dementia and their loved ones.
Montessori and its goals are explained to families and they are encouraged to be part of it.
“Families can play a vital role. Families can come in and do fine motor skill activities with their loved one to keep them feeding themselves. What a wonderful thing,” Anne said.
“Families often are in a position where it’s difficult to visit. So, in that (Montessori) environment it changes the family visits from something that is often difficult where they don’t’ know what to say and what to do into something that is positive where families can feel that they are contributing to the wellbeing of that person in the longer term.”