For the last 17 years, ETC Montessori has been designing innovative materials that bridge the current brain research and how learning takes place with that of the traditional approach to Montessori. It was 5 years ago when we were approached with the idea of our concrete materials being innovative enough that they could actually be used to help patients with dementia. Thus, our work with beta tests began in that sector and it was soon realized that the effects our materials had on the patients were astonishing. We quickly saw individuals who moved towards becoming independent, made their own individual choices, and who commanded respect, dignity, and understanding.
But more than just conveying the Montessori methodology and its approach, we have taken the philosophy and adapted it in a way that helps engage adults [with dementia] by achieving a coveted harmony between external stimuli and internal thoughtfulness. The process begins with a deep understanding that we not only adhere to the basic principles of Montessori, but we ensure that each set of materials we design creates an environment that is specific to the individual person with dementia. Each item holds a unique experience for the patient. Each activity moves from simple to complex and concrete to abstract. It will surprise some to find that each set can be separated into smaller parts, providing the opportunity to work on one element at a time while also utilizing external cues.
In being tasked with the design of innovative materials, we made sure we provided sequential learning so that dementia patients were able to progress through stages by observation and recognition, ultimately followed by recall and demonstration. To do this we utilized tangible, functional, and aesthetically pleasing materials from real life.
Each item is carefully chosen to create a defined cadence that emphasizes auditory, visual, and tactile discrimination. At its core is the acceptance of the fact that people with dementia can still contribute to the community. Their memory challenges do not erase them as people. Instead we build on their strengths, recognize their accomplishments and provide them with the opportunities to engage with everyone in their environment, while exercising motor skills with muscle memory and Montessori tools.
In the present, we’re celebrating work that appeals to the mind while encouraging the patients to step out of their mental enclosures and simultaneously recognizing the effects these enclosures have on the individual. Thoughtfully made accoutrements for encouraging conversations, triggering memories, encouraging fine motor skills and building self-esteem, form the focus of our Montessori ElderCARE approach. Fun follows function.
What we take with us from these activities, should not be a strict adherence to an approach, but a set of values. As we move forward with the activities we are designing, look for daring thoughts, activities that are human-centered, forward-looking, and build self-esteem without belittling or demeaning the user. The work we do should raise questions about who we are as human beings and how our character is displayed through the work we live to do.