Dementia is often accompanied by behavioural and psychological symptoms that include agitation, aggression, and disinhibition. In addition to reflecting the suffering of a person with dementia, these symptoms also create a stressful working environment for nursing staff. While medications can be an effective treatment in some cases, there are many cases for which they are ineffective and they often carry severe side-effects. Consequently, there is growing interest and support for non-pharmacological alternatives. Of particular interest are interventions that can be tailored to the needs of individuals such as those that recognise cultural and linguistic diversities.
A team of researchers led by Dr Eva van der Ploeg of Monash University and the DCRC – Assessment and Better Care have been researching the use of Montessori methods in the treatment of behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia. Montessori methods refer to a style of activity originally designed to educate students at a pace adjusted to each individual and to their specific needs.
Adapted for dementia, this approach aims to stimulate and engage people with dementia with meaningful activities that can be easily adjusted to a person's cognitive ability. Activities typically involve a facilitator demonstrating the activity before handing the activity objects to the person to complete the activity. This approach allows these activities to be effectively demonstrated without reliance on language ability.
The study led by Dr van der Ploeg investigated whether Montessori activities affected the agitation, mood, and engagement exhibited by residents with dementia in care facilities. The authors found that Montessori activities reduced agitation scores by half, and promoted more positive and interested affect. While a control intervention also benefited agitation and affect, Montessori activities had notably more benefit for affect and in people with reduced English language skills.
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