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Care Providers Look to Montessori Techniques for Treating Dementia

February 8, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - With an aging population to deal with, elder-care providers across Florida and the nation are trying to find better ways to maintain quality of life for more than five million Americans who have been diagnosed with dementia, and are turning to more specialized and individualized care for them.

Deedre Vriesman is a program manager for The Woods at Maple Creek, a non-profit, live-in facility run by Lutheran Social Services. She says the mantra for dementia care used to be "clean, safe and dry," but one of the latest techniques includes a learning approach used with pre-schoolers.

"It's the same methods that you use for children who are in Montessori-based schools, very hands-on, sorting tasks, feeding tasks, smelling different things, using reminiscence, that's all built in to make it a meaningful event that makes sense to the person, so it's more familiar."

Vriesman says medications for treating dementia are expensive and not very effective. She says the best treatment focuses on maintaining cognitive ability and on life-enrichment, using the skills a patient has retained.

She says the high price of elder-care facilities forces many families to keep a loved one at home for a much longer time. She adds that although budgets have been cut, Florida area agencies on aging provide help finding resources through the Elder Helpline at 1-800-96-AGING.

"I could call and say, 'My grandma needs a placement; here's the type of things that I'm seeing with her.' And then they could help you sort through, 'OK, based on that, these are the programs that could help,' Because it is overwhelming."

Florida has over half a million senior citizens diagnosed with dementia, and that number is expected to double in the next decade. Governor Charlie Crist put additional money in his budget for respite care and other resources for families of dementia patients, but critics say he is counting on money that may not be there.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL