Why St Louis has embraced Montessori based dementia care

Sherrill Bickmore is a registered nurse and the care manager at St Louis On Sea in Victor Harbor. She is a passionate advocate of dementia-friendly communities.

At St Louis, we have embraced the Montessori approach to dementia care, integrating it as part of our daily approach to caring for our residents and clients. Sherill discusses why we’ve brought this method into our support plans and some of the results we’ve seen.

What is the Montessori approach to learning and development?

“The Montessori approach to human development was started in 1897 by Maria Montessori who was a physician, anthropologist and teacher. Her methods aim to instil a lifelong love of learning, so that from childhood through to adult, the person is always inspired to be curious, ask questions and to discover a way to approach any problem or challenge.

The premise remains that every human being, no matter what their age, is able to use the skills they have to be creative and problem solve.”

How does this apply to aged care?

We believe that every human being has the right to be treated with respect and dignity and to live their life with meaning and purpose where ever they live, regardless of their age and ability.

Dignity and respect are essential for all human beings to be able to live a fulfilling life, whether they have dementia or not. The Montessori approach gives us the tools to support people living with dementia to become more engaged in their life.”

How does the Montessori approach help people with dementia?

“With dementia, a person’s short term memory is affected but their long term memory remains in their memory banks even though it appears that this is also missing. Things learned in formative years are laid down permanently so with the right approach, we can reach these memory banks.

People recall these memories with some help, step by step. We find out about the person’s history, what they enjoyed and what interests they had. We focus on strengths and current abilities of people with dementia, and we match these to specific activities they show interest in.

You don’t tell the person to do something, you ask them if they would like to do something. Actions speak louder than words in these situations and we demonstrate ideas and behaviours with visual hints and cues where we can.

The Montessori approach is always making sure the activity has a purpose, taking an interest in the person and what they actually like. We take note of their physical skills, what they can do and what they can’t do. We provide activities they can grasp, that suit their capabilities.

We take it slowly, step by step, and we are very patient. Eventually they remember and come to re-engage with something they have always loved doing, I feel brilliant, over the moon when this happens. It’s very rewarding.”

What results have been seen using the Montessori approach at St Louis?

“In the nursing home, the residents have started being more creative, they now make soup in winter on a regular basis, peeling the vegies, chopping them up and adding the herbs to go with it. Everyone loves it.

A couple of our other residents who used to love swimming and had forgotten their skills, are now back in the water swimming again. One of them who is normally wheelchair bound, can actually stand up in the water! This pool program has won awards. Our residents are doing things that initially seem impossible, just because we gently persist with ways to help them remember. The memory that was locked away had been brought to the surface and they now swim – they have not been able to do that for years!

Everything you do in life has some risk, we don’t take all the risk away for people living with dementia otherwise there’s no purpose. We’re careful, but we allow people choice and the freedom to try things.”

What would you like to add about creating dementia-friendly communities?

“The awareness about dementia in Australia is still developing. People who have dementia can be ostracised and so can their families. With some families, friends don’t visit anymore because they are concerned about the person in the household with dementia. Education is the key.

I’m passionate about making the general community more dementia aware so that people living with dementia are not ostracised. I’m part of Dementia Australia and participate in their webinars and am an advocate for dementia friendly communities in South Australia. I’d like to see acceptance of people with dementia by the general community – the public, shop keepers and every-one.

People don’t know how to relate to those living with dementia so I mention the following:

  • Dementia is not a disease, you’re not going to catch it
  • It can happen to anyone
  • Make the person living with dementia feel wanted and cared for, it can be frightening
  • For that person, treat them like anyone else, even if it does take a little more time.

Hopefully our efforts will see more dementia-friendly communities in the not too distant future.“

Call St Louis Aged care in Parkside, St Louis on Sea or Home Care Services in Adelaide or Victor Harbor for Dementia Care and Respite Care

St Louis provides home care services in Victor Harbor, plus the new St Louis on Sea. This is an 8-bed specialist dementia care, “new age” home located across the road from the beach. Our approach to dementia care whether it’s in the Parkside nursing home, St Louis on Sea or in your own home , is based on a long history of helping people with dementia live the best life they can. We also offer respite care at St Louis On Sea and home care services in Victor Harbor and surrounding towns. Call us on 08 8552 1481 for more information or drop in to our office at 31 Victoria Street, Victor Harbor for a cup of tea and a chat.

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