Both my children went to Montessori schools until they were nine and loved their school experience. The way they learnt and the skills they learned have certainly had a positive influence on their lives since. And since the Montessori method is broadly based on learning through play, I feel a particular affinity with it, as it is this thinking that informs my REAL (Reminiscence, Empathic engagement and Active Listening) Communication workshops.
I am often asked for dementia activity ideas and generally send people off to NAPAwho specialise in activities, but here are some suggestions of simple to do Montessori-based activities that can provide meaningful engagement for people with advanced dementia to enhance their daily life experience. After all, every individual who has a dementia is still a person, regardless of their cognitive ability and/or ability to communicate verbally.
These activities can provide a sense of success for people with advanced dementia, designed as they are to be failure-free. None of these dementia activities can be done ‘wrong’. It is the process that matters, not the outcome; and the following ideas are not meaningless exercises designed merely to keep residents occupied, but effective tools for maintaining and improving residents' cognition and fine-motor skills through the use of familiar, everyday objects.
Please note: Some items listed need to be safeguard-tested beforehand, but please remember, few of us would want to be wrapped in cotton wool, so let’s try to give pleasure rather than take it away from people, just because of our own fears.
Sorting is a fantastic activity for people with advanced dementia but surely we can do better than we do with the things we give people to sort, like the ubiquitous napkins, towels or socks?
A Pom-Pom game
A set of small colourful pom-poms
An ice cube tray with the insides painted in colours to match the pom-poms
Someone with advanced dementia – and
A person interested in sharing the activity
The person with dementia takes the small, colourful pom-poms and places them in the painted compartments of the ice-cube tray that match them.
A large tub of brightly coloured, plastic alphabet letters
Sort the letters into piles either by type, by colours or by visual interest – perhaps the letters can be used for a subsequent activity that the sorting will assist...
Coloured ball sorting
Differently coloured painted ping-pong balls
A plastic ice cream scoop
A brightly coloured plastic bowl
A tart tin with moulds painted in the same colours as the balls
Place the coloured balls into the colour-matched wells of the tart tin.
Sets of playing cards with differently patterned backs
Sort the stacks of muddled up playing cards according to the designs on the backs of the cards.
Digging through hard kernels for coins is not only a meaningful activity because it employs familiar objects; it is also therapeutic – providing pleasant sensory stimulation for hands as they move through the cool shiny seeds. And finding and grasping small objects like coins can help maintain the fine-motor coordination required for buttoning buttons while dressing.
A large shallow plastic tub of unpopped popcorn or dried peas (Note: Safety Check!)
Coins of different sizes
A piece of paper as a template, with circles of differing sizes drawn on it (visual cues to help with the sorting)
Rummage through the tub to find the coins that have been hidden there.
Arrange the coins found by size to match those drawn on the paper.
Sorting through a big box of buttons can be both a sensory and reminiscence experience. if you are worried about someone trying to eat the buttons, thread them onto string 'necklaces' first. This will also provide an added reminscence experience as this is often how women might ensure that button types or sizes were kept together for later use, in times past.
Rummaging through a box of assorted ribbons can be a stimulating and pleasurable sensory experience. Asking the person to choose a ribbon that brings back a memory for them - for example, the colour of a dress, a tablecloth or curtains, or the colour of a front door, can lead to fascinating life experience stories and help us get to know the person better.
I responded to "auntie's dilemma" on Mark Easton's BBC blog...
The discussion about the two conceited characters at the centre of this "furore" has many interesting twists and turns of course, (especially issues about whose production company produced the programme in question) but they're so dismally smug and tedious, neither deserves the oxygen.
However, I might take issue with three statements in the blog:
1. "If the Beeb cannot keep enough young people on board, it is sunk."
Well actually, this is probably incorrect, given the population statistics. Indeed the very opposite could be argued. Of course this doesn't mean that TV and radio need to be bland or boring - after all, it is the over-50s who invented "youth" in the first place and have grown up with fresh, vibrant and rule-breaking comedy and satire as well as music and much else in the media. But research shows that this age group is less likely to be amused or entertained by the sort of prurient drivel dispensed by the two in question.
2. "The challenge is true for many organisations - big multinationals also need to ensure their market doesn't simply die off. "
As Ford discovered with the Mondeo model, designing a car that can deliver high performance alongside ergonomics that make it more pleasurable to use by older people whose bodies aren't necessarily quite as supple as they would like, were two of the key reasons for its wide appeal and financial success. The BBC's audience might well be pleased to see a bit of this kind of thinking translated into programmes by the corporation's production departments and suppliers - even if they are dominated by younger people.
3. "But the pressure on the Corporation to appeal to youth is, effectively, enshrined in its Royal Charter. And it has a licence fee to justify."
Possibly so, but consider this for a moment: there are now more people over 60 in the country than those under sixteen. If any BBC programme makers were to step inside the living rooms of any of the 9.5 million pensioners around the country or even visit any of the 330,000 odd care homes, they would find a huge older audience which is positively aching for some really good informative, rich and entertaining TV content aimed at THEM - especially during the day.
Like Ford has shown, segregating a market generationally is not the only answer. And surely this lies at the heart of the BBC's responsibility to licence fee payers. Why not give older people the kind of programmes they yearn for, too - besides anything else, they have been paying for the privilege longer than any of the young audience which the corporation appears to pursue so energetically.
My friend Mim goes to a weekly Ancient Greek and Roman breakfast club for non-students at the school (she assures me that the food is nevertheless fresh) which is attended by a variety of local older people.
Talks include the birth of language, Greek tragedy, Roman towns, the sound of Latin, and are accompanied by a very good breakfast - and all for a couple of quid. They also throw monthly teas for elderly people, helped by the upper school students.
Just an idea… M.O.P.S. (Mothers Own Personal Services)
Create a non-profit company to provide services to the aging population staff staffed by younger aging people (over 60s +).
The opportunity would be that people who are physically able and on a pension could provide services to older people who are not able and at the same time supplement their income as well have a social network.
I like the principle of the aging population becoming self sustaining and avoiding the rip-offs of these outsourced social services.
How much does a chiropodist cost?
Bet it's more than a beautician...couldn't the gov outsource to all these local nail centres - for the more basic nail cutting etc.
In London, there seems to be one around every corner - this would be a great treat for some old folks and would speed up the waiting list for the less medical care - so preventing good feet from going bad...
A good idea this school stuff.
The interactive ideas are great...having worked as a teacher I know that kids can respond well to outsiders and real- life situations away from the normal curriculum.
The only issue I foresee is getting the time to allow this to happen, and who would implement it in the school. Teachers are so stretched as it is teaching what they have to teach, plan, mark, jump through hoops etc. I think the History lessons would be the most obvious and engaging route for kids, and one that could more easily be managed. Hearing stories about the war, or the Slave Trade, or life as a First Generation refugee - these could all come so much more to life if from the mouths of a real life (old) person.
There could be problems with craft related demonstrations and Health and Safety issues...but I know we had an ancient dust- gathering lathe in our school workshop and kids always asked me "Miss Miss, what's that for?"
Now, if I had just had a nice little old craftsman, (more likely a he than she) there who would have showed us- for half an hour - what that lathe could do! How empowering would that be! Kinds of makes me wish I was still teaching and could find that man. He must be out there. Any one know any old wood turners in West Sussex who I could put forward?
School is the right place to start - but one could be more entrepreneurial (Tory) about it. I like the share a skill idea - that could work with business people who want to learn a craft or lunchtime chat sessions - go and eat your sarnie with a local oldie rather than just reading the Mail in Prets...
There are lots of inner city old people as well as out in the suburbs and sticks... Perhaps the Tories could start it with David having lunchtime sessions with some retired MPs/Prime Ministers etc - good PR stunt for him!