New school of thought for elderly care

Covid-19 has had negative consequences in so many areas, and none so hard hit as nursing homes and elderly care. With many staff and family members unsure of how best to help patients during this time, St Nicholas Montessori College is offering a real and groundbreaking approach to elder care

14th March, 2021
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In a Montessori community for elderly people with dementia, individuals work on a host of activities either separately or together

When we hear the word ‘Montessori’ we tend to think of nursery schools and early years settings involved in the care of children. But there is a growing body of evidence and understanding that the benefits of Montessori methodology can be felt far beyond this age range.

“Most of us hear Montessori and automatically picture children or early years settings, but Montessori methodology isn’t just for young people,” said Jennifer Brush, Montessori Dementia Expert and Education for Dementia Programme Director at St Nicholas Montessori College in Dún Laoghaire.

“It’s a philosophy that, at its core, allows for a sense of individuality and joy within the individual.”

When you look at the benefits of a Montessori approach, it soon becomes clear that there’s absolutely no reason why that ethos should end in childhood.

“Older adults and children alike can utilise these attributes and flourish in their lives,” said Brush. “Montessori is based on the principles of free choice and purposeful activity. In a Montessori community for elders, individuals with a wide range of abilities work both individually and collaboratively on an array of activities from which they are free to choose, explore and discover.”

It’s this school of thought and appreciation for the hitherto unexplored benefits of Montessori education in an elder care setting, that has informed the creation of the new programme that Brush is director of at St Nicholas Montessori College.

The new Montessori Education for Dementia Programme: Level 6 Special Purpose Award in Montessori Education for Dementia has built on the college’s unique expertise, developed over 50 years, to create and deliver one of the world’s only programmes focusing on the huge benefits of utilising the principles of Montessori education in elder care settings.

It’s a revolutionary and exciting addition to the existing portfolio of courses and programmes already offered at St Nicholas Montessori College, but one that shows an acute appreciation for a developing field of expertise and area of need.

“Although Dr [Maria] Montessori did not design environments for older adults, researchers, clinicians and architects have contributed to a large body of evidence that has resulted in ageing and dementia care guidelines,” explained Brush.

“This new programme combines Dr Montessori’s philosophy of learning and living with person-centred ageing and dementia care best practices. The Montessori Education for Dementia programme respects the older person and enables them to continue to make contributions to the community in whatever way possible.

“It also encourages caregivers to make observations in order to learn about the person, encourages independence in a specially prepared environment, provides meaningful engagement for older adults and reminds us that learning and engagement can occur anywhere and at any age. It really is a life-changing approach to dementia care.”

Brush’s dedication to redesigning dementia care has taken her around the world, consulting on healthcare policy, delivering talks to boardrooms and advising families in Australia, South America, America and across Europe.

She previously worked as a speech language pathologist, before embarking on a career that has now been going for nearly 30 years, revolutionising dementia care after deciding that there was a need, and opportunity, to change and improve the care of elderly people.

In that time she has become an award-winning author, writing numerous research articles and books on dementia including the definitive guide – Montessori for Elder and Dementia Care – and become an inaugural member of the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) Advisory Board for Montessori for Dementia and Ageing.

Today, Brush is the only AMI Certified Trainer for Montessori for Dementia and Ageing in Ireland and one of only two AMI Certified Trainer of Trainers in the world.

Last year, she began her exciting new endeavour as Programme Director of Montessori Education for Dementia at St Nicholas Montessori College offering what she describes as “a truly innovative blended-learning opportunity for in-depth study of Montessori for Dementia that is like no other programme in the world”.

As well as the new six-month programme, St Nicholas Montessori College also offers an exciting series of introductory workshops on Montessori Education for Dementia that will appeal to a broad range of people interested in learning more about the subject.

The three-day long online programme offers a fascinating insight into the key aspects of the principles of Montessori and their application and benefits in elders and those with dementia.

Just some of the workshop schedule highlights include: Person-Centred Care, what it entails and the value of roles; Why Montessori; Applying Montessori Methods to the Care Setting; Understanding Dementia and Memory; and Best Practices for Dementia Care.

The next workshop events will take place on April 15, 16 and 17 and there are no entry requirements to attend the online workshop which costs €250 and can be applied for on the St Nicholas Montessori College website (https://smsi.ie/dementia/) where there is also additional information on the full workshop schedule.

It’s a unique opportunity to learn more about an exciting new area of care or as a launching pad into the six-month programme.

“The stand-alone introductory workshop is ideal for groups of colleagues who seek insight into this field,” Brush said. “The six-month online blended course is ideal for carers, activity professionals, social workers, nursing home directors and leaders in the field of ageing and Montessori.”

In the three years that Brush has been running the workshops, feedback from the initiative has been extremely positive, with care-givers enthusiastic and encouraged by the useful and important information as well as the idea of creating a care practice that places the needs of the individual with dementia central to its approach.

Brush is passionate in her pursuit of improving dementia care and excited to be able to open up the opportunities presented by Montessori to those engaged in the field of elder care in Ireland and educate a new generation in the benefits.

“In a Montessori community, elders have freedom to move within the community, and to engage in household roles and responsibilities, guided as needed by trained staff who have completed at least two days of education with an AMI Trainer,” she said.

“The focus is on the wellbeing of the whole person, including physical, spiritual, social, mental and emotional needs. Communities offer occasions for new learning, religious practices, meditation, art, music, exercise and so forth. In addition, there are opportunities for interaction with children, friends, family and groups outside the care community.

“As dementia care providers, we need to remember that older adults still want to be heard, just as we do,” Brush said. “Maintaining a focus on bringing back our attention to the people we’re serving and enriching their lives with the care we provide is our priority.”

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