Feb 05, 2019

How Living A Montessori Inspired Lifestyle Is Giving People Living With Dementia Their Lives Back

The Greater Port Macquarie area is known for possessing some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes throughout all of NSW.

Golden sandy beaches and lush rainforest provide the perfect backdrop for people of retirement age who have finished with the 9 to 5 rat-race of the working world and are looking to rekindle their passion for life.

Susan and Jim Crombie are just one of the many senior couples who are lucky enough to call this region home.

Jim Crombie,80, was an electrical engineer in his younger years and also spent four years as a Merchant Navy Seaman before finally calling Australia home.

And Susan Crombie,69, spent her formative years working in various office environments and even worked as a dance teacher.

Jim and Susan married over 24 years ago, and have spent over two decades sharing love, responsibility, and laughter between each other and then sharing these lessons with their children.

In 2013 though, signs of early onset dementia began to arise, and Susan noticed that some of Jim’s behavioral patterns were starting to change.

“His memory started to go, and his cognitive function was really starting to deteriorate,” said Susan.

“He wasn’t thinking things through like he normally would, and some of the things he was doing around the house just didn’t make any sense. It was really affecting him as a person, and it was also affecting us as a couple.”

After spending a year diligently looking for guidance on how best to assist Jim, Susan reached out to local aged care and disability service Omnicare Alliance, who helped Susan locate a local day respite centre that would have a massive impact on the overall wellbeing of Susan and her husband Jim for years to come.  

Jim began attending the Hastings District Respite Care Centre at Greenmeadows (now part of the Omnicare Alliance) on a one-day-per-week basis in early 2014, and according to Susan the changes in him were almost immediate.

“Jim was an electrical engineer and evaluator, so he was always very good at doing tasks and thinking practically, but that all stopped prior to attending the respite centre. Then all of a sudden, I noticed that part of him start to resurface and he started initiating tasks around our unit,” said Susan.

“We had a woolen ‘door snake’ that you put at the foot of the door to stop the draft, but the wind was so strong that it kept blowing the snake away from the door and letting the draft in the house. One day Jim just went to the shed and came back and glued two pieces of velcro neatly to the bottom of the door, he then stuck the snake up against the velcro.”

“That stopped the draft for good, and it still hasn’t even moved. I was shocked,” she said.

While Susan was aware that Jim was doing a lot of activities at the Respite Centre, she had no idea of the positive intentions and purpose behind what Jim was doing on that one day of the week.

Jim was part of a daily routine within the respite centre that incorporated the Montessori Method of learning to help re-engage and rekindle the passions and strengths of people living with dementia.

“Most respite centres just have their seniors sitting in chairs falling asleep or watching TV, this place kept him busy with activities, but he was actually learning from the activities and it brought things back mentally that he had started to lose,” said Susan.



What is Montessori?

Montessori is a method of learning that emphasises independence, freedom within limits, and respect for an individual’s psychological, physical and social development.

In regard to seniors living with dementia, the Montessori Method utilises simple, modifiable and practical tasks that utilise everyday items to re-engage individuals and help to retrain skills that may have diminished due to dementia.

These tasks may be as simple as asking someone to separate a group of fruits from a group of vegetables or simple puzzles through to identifying geographical landmarks and numerical quizzes.

And these types of actions can assist a person living with dementia in the regaining of valuable motor skills.

Montessori is a combination of learning and training that focuses on what an individual is capable of and trying to build on and expand upon these capabilities.

A person’s abilities are closely tied to their life experiences and passions, and identifying these passions and harnessing them to rekindle and engage a person is the essence of what makes it effective.

If a woman grew up playing the piano, music may be the key to her learning and engaging, but if she enjoyed gardening instead, then heading outdoors and incorporating seeds and plants into her activities, may be the key in helping her rediscover some old skills.

American Montessori expert Dr. Cameron Camp has spent close to four decades studying and refining techniques dealing with human cognition, learning, memory, and problem-solving.

And has now developed a new approach to caring for persons living with dementia known as The Montessori Inspired Lifestyle ® (MIL) that is helping seniors around the globe reconnect with themselves and regain their sense of self.

“It is based on the philosophy and methods of Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female M.D. in Italy and world-renowned educator, which now has been adapted for persons with dementia,” said Dr. Camp.

“This innovative approach combines rehabilitation principles and educational techniques using the physical and cognitive abilities available to individuals. The key values of MIL are respect, dignity, and equality.”

“We envision a new paradigm of care in which persons diagnosed with dementia are viewed as individuals with lives worth living.”

“Within this new paradigm, abilities, interests, and preferences will be respected, encouraged and maximized. Providing choice throughout the day is central to all interactions.”

“Central to MIL is the creation of meaningful activities and social roles within the context of a community. This helps to ensure that residents are engaged in life, have a feeling of belonging, have a sense of purpose, have access to meaningful activity, and can have a sense of control and Independence.”

Susan who was blown away by Jim’s progress and transformation took the opportunity to do a 3-week course with Omnicare Alliance to learn about Montessori and apply the principles and methods in her own home.

“We have a bunch of signs around the house for Jim now that ask him questions. ‘Have you taken the bin out?’ or ‘Do you have your house keys?’ and the signs have cartoon pictures to help explain the question. This stops me from nagging him and actually gets him to think and engage with himself which is a big part of learning,” said Susan.

“If I’m cooking and I ask Jim to cut a carrot into a bunch of small cubes he might struggle with that, but when I cut one myself and show him, then he gets to see it visually and touch it, and he is more than capable after that.”

“If I had of just asked him to do it once or twice and he couldn’t do it, you might think he was incapable of doing it, but he isn’t, he just needs me to communicate with him in a simpler way.”

Spreading The Message

Dr. Cameron Camp will be one of many dementia experts from around the globe that will be looking to share their ideas at this year’s Red Conference (Regional Experiences in Practical Dementia Care) being held in Port Macquarie.

Omnicare Alliance will host the two-day event, which will run on March 28 and 29th, and incorporate a series of presentations and workshops to give participants further insight and understanding of dementia.

The RED Conference demonstrates Omnicare Alliance’s commitment to supporting a better quality of life for people living with dementia, those involved with their care, and the wider community.

Which coincidentally, will be held in Susan and Jim Crombie’s hometown.

“I live in a retirement village and I see so many people every day that could benefit from this type of learning and care,” said Susan.

“I have people tell me that they get a cleaner in to help them with chores and other people to help do things that their partner can’t do anymore. But I tell them it’s not about that, what Jim is doing has helped him get his own life back. That’s what Montessori is.”

Montessori expert Dr. Cameron Camp believes that events like the RED Conference that encourage the sharing of information are crucial for the aged care sector.  

And that the more people are willing to share their knowledge and experiences in the implementation of MIL, the quicker these processes will begin to become implemented across the globe.

“I am very much looking forward to the RED Conference,” said Dr. Camp.

“I am excited to share several exciting new programs and projects, as well as interacting with innovative colleagues and learning about new ideas that can be shared with my friends around the world.”

For more information regarding the 2019 RED Conference click here.


Photo credit: Camden Haven Courier

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