Hastings District Respite Care rolls out Montessori Approach in dementia program

Montessori champion Jade Sinclair with client Paula Richardson.

Montessori champion Jade Sinclair with client Paula Richardson.

An innovative local program providing care for people living with dementia will be the subject of a three-year study by Southern Cross University.

HDRC (Hastings District Respite Care) Services’ Montessori Approach focuses on both the person and their surroundings. It incorporates word signs, visual cues and other memory-enhancing techniques into the respite day care activities and other support services it offers people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of the condition.

The highly successful program also helps carers better understand the condition and to create a more dementia-friendly family home environment.

The study will measure the impact of the Montessori Approach on participating clients, carers, and staff, as well as help to refine the structure and delivery of the program. It is being undertaken by clinical psychologist Andrew Hanna in conjunction with SCU’s Coffs Harbour campus.

HDRC Services’ CEO Raymond Gouck said the incidence of dementia locally was among the highest in the state. The study also coincides with Dementia Awareness Month in NSW.

“Through the Montessori Approach, HRDC Services aims to help people living with dementia remain living at home for as long as possible by rediscovering their individual talents, skills and interests,” Mr Gouck said.

The study’s principal supervisor is Dr Jim Donnelly, a psychologist and lecturer in psychology at SCU. He said that by validating the Montessori Approach, similar community-based dementia respite programs Australia-wide could possibly delay the need for costly residential care.

“From every perspective, it’s vital to try to find ways to keep people with dementia living in the familiar surroundings of their family home and engaged in their community,” Dr Donnelly said.

“HDRC’s program and this study could well have significant financial implications for the future funding of aged care and respite services for older Australians.”

In dementia care, the challenge is to identify the memory barriers  that prevent someone with dementia carrying out simple, everyday tasks. Under the Montessori  Approach, remembering the steps required to dress may only require ‘shirts’, ‘shorts’ and other labels to be put on the respective drawers.

Learning new skills – or relearning old ones – can be immensely rewarding, according to Ms Julie Dunn, who manages HDRC Services’ Port Macquarie, Wauchope and Laurieton day care centres.

“The Montessori Approach focuses on creating meaning and purpose in the lives of people living with dementia and maintaining their connections to their community,” Ms Dunn said.

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