Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Montessori: Changing the Way We Think of Dementia

How many times have you heard these comments about people with dementia?:

"People with dementia can't learn new things."
"All you can expect him/her to do is sit and watch TV."
"Dementia patients can't contribute to society anymore."
"You can have a person with dementia do the same task over and over again because they never remember it anyway."

My family and I have been told all of these things about dementia. We have been told to put Mom in an adult daycare where they fold towels over and over again. In our hearts Dad and I just felt that this was not right. We knew there had to be something better out there. We knew Mom, and each person with dementia, is still a person who deserves dignity and respect and who has the ability to contribute to the world in a purposeful way. From the medical field though we were hearing the exact opposite.

Instinctively I knew that what the medical field was saying could not be what laid in store for Mom. In fact, my whole theology revolves around showing people dignity and respect and helping people find purpose and meaning in their lives. With those two things, people feel happy, whole, and find their connection to that which is greater than themselves (God, the Universe, etc...). What people were saying about Mom went against my theology and my understanding of the world. I knew it couldn't be true, but had no proof until this week.
Dr. Maria Montessori 1870-1952

For two days Dad, Mom's caregiver, and I attended a Montessori-based dementia training with the Center for Applied Research in Dementia with Dr. Cameron Camp. This training showed me that we can help Mom have a wonderful and meaningful life even with her Lewy Body Dementia. What annoys me is that I did not see it before.

I went to a Montessori school until eighth grade and I know that is where the core of my belief system came from. I have preached about Dr. Maria Montessori and how her values are in line with Unitarian Universalism. My son goes to a Montessori school. Montessori has been a part of my life forever, yet I also live in a world which drills it into our heads the belief that people can't learn for themselves and they have no value if they are not fast, brilliant, and controllable. After eighth grade, I learned to live in this system because I had to, but I lost some of myself along the way. That's why I didn't notice that if I just applied Montessori principles to life, we could take care of Mom much better.

Dr. Camp taught us:
"People with dementia can learn new things."
"You can expect him/her to participate in activities they enjoy every day."
"Dementia patients contribute amazing things to society when we give them the chance."
"Never have a person with dementia do busywork, like folding towels all day, that does not honor their worth and dignity."

You will see many blog posts in the future about the Montessori method and how we will use it in our care with Mom and with the participants in our weekly dementia program. Right now I am just so excited to be reminded of how Montessori changes lives. As a person with mental illness, I know the Montessori teachings were what enabled me to believe in myself and figure out how to use my strengths to contribute to the world. Without it I would have only focused on what I can't do. Forgetting about the core Montessori teachings meant that we were only focusing on what Mom can't do. Well, no more. Mom has lots of great things ahead of her thanks to Dr. Camp and his colleagues who have brought Montessori to people of all ages. I am glad now I can return to my parents the gift of Montessori that my Mom and Dad gave me.


Rev. Katie

Monday, April 16, 2012

ArtCare In Practice

It is hard to describe what ArtCare is, which we use for our programs of the Carolyn L. Farrell Foundation for Brain Health. ArtCare is not art therapy. Our goal is not to cure an illness because so many of the diseases of the brain can not be cured. Particularly with dementia, there is no cure. What people really need is socialization, joy, and the feeling that they can still contribute something beautiful to the world. For our friends with dementia, this is what we are using ArtCare for. For our other programs for mental illness, ArtCare can help in the treatment process, but again it is not a cure. ArtCare is used to bring focus, purpose, and meaning into people's lives.

The art that we have been focusing on for our friends with dementia is abstract art. In the later stages of dementia and people struggling with Parkinson's or arthritis, detailed art that looks like an object is too frustrating to create. Art where you can let your imagination soar is the aim of our program. However, it is hard to get people to let go of thinking art has to look like something, be something, and just have fun like they probably did when they were little. However, as people get used to the process, they see the beautiful things they can create just by using their imagination and letting go of any art "rules" they thought existed. We always say in our programs that there are no rules and you can't make a mistake. Whatever you do is exactly right just the way it is.

Here are a few examples of the art they have created which will be auctioned off at the Alzheimer's Association Cleveland Chapter A Celebration of Hope dinner on April 26, 2012 :

Zentangles art practice. Calligraphy by Mike Gold, CLF Foundation Board Member.

Papercrafting. Individual collages made with patterned paper, cut to create one piece of artwork.


Rev. Katie