In recent decades, one of the population groups that has grown the most is our elders’, due to economic growth, a healthier lifestyle, better nutrition and greater control of diseases; consequently, several programmes have been developed in order to serve this group of people more efficiently.
Ageing is multifactorial, as it makes forward through physical, psychological, social and spiritual factors. It doesn’t develop in the same way in all people, but it depends on different components such as the type of food, diseases, pollution, race, genetics and attitude towards life.
The late adult stage is characterised by a gradual decline of the right functioning of all body systems so that the elderly experience is a weakening of the capacity for response and processing of information.
These changes require them to make adjustments in their lifestyle.
This population group has been marked for long by a series of prejudices and discrimination. Old age is often related to illness and disability, however, these conditions are not exclusive to this phase.
During this stage, several physical changes can be easily observed, such as the decrease in muscle mass, wrinkles, loss of height, etc. Other changes, not so viewable, are those affecting the internal organs such as the brain, sensory functioning (sight, hearing, etc.) and motor. This series of biological changes, along with the reduction of activities that require attention and learning anew, results in a cognitive deterioration, which is reflected in the decrease of short-term memory retaining, for example, forgetting where the keys were left.
Another sign that is usually related to the late adult stage is the general memory regression and cognitive ability, which often lead to dementia. This may occur in different degrees and affects emotional control, social behaviour and motivation, causing the individual cannot perform daily activities.
Psychologists, doctors and geriatricians have been designing several intervention methods and programmes with the aim that the elderly to maintain or improve their quality of life; These are aimed at reinforcing or rehabilitating motor, language, sensory and executive function skills.
Recent years research has demonstrated the effectiveness of the Montessori method applied to the elderly.
The Montessori pedagogy was designed with the purpose of developing the potentialities of children to the most through a prepared environment, offering them activities according to their interests and abilities. An environment provided with beneficial experiences for their physical and psychic development, favouring in children the ability to make decisions and be autonomous in a social environment.
The Montessori pedagogy is adapted to the care of the elderly, especially those who suffer memory and cognitive functions deterioration. The method is focused on the recognition of the person and one’s own capacities and abilities resorting to memory related to motor patterns, such as habits and ways of doing things automatically, a concept that Maria Montessori described as “unconscious learning”.
Principles such as prepared environment, free choice and respect for inner rhythm, along with human tendencies such as order, repetition, work, communication and orientation, as well as the activities proposed by the Montessori methodology, have been adapted to a programme for seniors. In this way, the adult is given the opportunity to learn in a meaningful way, starting from what he already knows and from his own needs.
One of the main concepts relates to the preparation of a structured and orderly environment, to offer activities that awaken the interest of each individual; These activities are freely chosen. The inner rhythm of each person is also respected in order to achieve as much independence as possible.
The proposed activities promote sensory and cognitive stimulation, self-care, increase physical activity, from the simple to the complex, leading to sequential learning, through the use of real objects of daily life that are recognised with ease.
Another aspect that has been adapted to elders is the presentation of activity: first of all, they are asked to participate; if accepted, then they are shown how to do it, focusing attention on the movements and using the least words as possible.
Among the proposed activities are those related to practical life, to the care of the person, the care of the environment as watering the plants or setting the table, fine motor skills such as stringing beads, transferring using different fastening instruments, etc. Other activities involve sensory discrimination such as grouping by colours, shapes, textures, etc.
These programmes result in the older adult regaining his self-esteem, feeling part of the community, acquiring independence and caring for himself.
Language, collaborative learning, reduction of the anxiety and aggression levels and expansion of the social interaction are also what these programmes favour.