Brain Health Speaker Calls for Revolution in Treatment of Dementia Patients
A Cleveland-area researcher is calling for a rehabilitative approach, rather than a traditional medical approach, for the treatment of those with dementia.
Cameron J. Camp, Ph.D., director of Research & Development at the Center for Applied Research in Dementia in Solon, Ohio, spoke Tuesday as part of the Kent State University Brain Health Research Institute’s (BHRI) seminar series.
Camp advocates using the Montessori method of dealing with individuals with dementia, focusing on what they can do, rather than what they cannot. The method, used in private Montessori schools for children, focuses on building skills and can be used for the elderly with dementia, too, Camp said.
His presentation, "Effects Produced Through Engaging Persons with Dementia: Prepare to be Amazed," was attended by about 40 students, faculty, staff and BHRI members gathered at the Kent Campus’ Integrated Sciences Building.
Mary Ukpong, a first-year master’s degree student in biological sciences majoring in integrative physiology and neurobiology, said that although her area of specialization is spinal cord injuries, she attends as many seminars as she can to learn as much as she can.
Ukpong, from Jacksonville, Florida, said Kent State is enabling her to receive her graduate degree with a stipend, financial aid and scholarships, and she has been impressed with the quality of research in her program and the availability of access to experts such as Camp. She was one of a small group of students who shared lunch with Camp following his presentation for the opportunity to learn more about his work.
Camp is the creator of Montessori-Based Dementia Programming, an innovative approach to activities programming that combines rehabilitation principles and educational techniques using the physical and cognitive abilities available to individuals.
His focus is to create an environment that provides respect and dignity to all persons and to foster the development of a true community for residents with dementia, their families and facility staff members who care for them.
Camp said it was a time for a revolution in the way people with dementia are treated, with a focus put on their abilities.
One example he provided was of an elderly nursing home patient who, after lunch every day, would walk the hallways making hand movements.
Rather than treating her with medication, Camp said the focus was turned to look at her abilities: walking and hand coordination and movement. Instead of roaming the halls, the woman was given the job of walking the facility’s therapy dog every day after the meal.
The successful result not only gave the woman a purposeful job to perform but also provided her with increased interaction as many people would stop to engage with her and pet the dog on her walks.
He said the method is based on what is used in Montessori schools, and he showed videos of 3- and 4-year-old children preparing an entire holiday meal for their parents, including working with sharp knives and peelers after being properly trained.
“They all learn by doing,” Camp said, repeating the theory of Maria Montessori, M.D., the first woman physician in Italy, who created the educational method.
Camp, whose wife, Linda Camp, is a Montessori school teacher and Kent State alumna, said the method works well with elderly dementia patients, who also can learn a task by repeatedly doing it.
The work, he said, must be meaningful and needed, not merely busy work.
He gave an example of a group of dementia patients in a home in France, who were skilled at cleaning and chopping vegetables to prepare the daily soup. Despite some having limited mobility due to stroke or severe dementia, all were able to learn to perform their assigned tasks well.
“We learn through our hands, and we remember through our hands,” Camp said.
He noted how one woman with limited use of one arm was working with an adaptive tool that held the carrots while she used her one good hand to work the peeler.
Camp told the audience, in particular the students present, that this type of training for dementia patients opened the door for a variety of creative and adaptive tools and encouraged them to be entrepreneurs “to create the things we need.”
“Is this woman suffering from dementia? No, she is a cook at work,” Camp said.
Ukpong was enthusiastic about Camp’s presentation. “I thought it was great,” she said, “It really made me think about dementia in a way I haven’t before.”
Also attending was Matthew Sunthimer, of Kent, who graduated from Kent State in 2021 with a degree in molecular biology, and who currently works as a laboratory manager and research coordinator for Merri Rosen, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology at Northeast Ohio Medical University.
Sunthimer called Camp’s presentation excellent, for the way his research contrasts many preconceived notions of what dementia patients’ abilities are and challenges conventional thinking.
A member of the BHRI, Sunthimer said he is applying for the doctorate program at Kent State and has an interest in studying how auditory function and hearing loss are a prediction of Alzheimer’s disease.
To learn more about Camp’s work, visit the Center for Applied Research in Dementia.
Visit this link to learn more about Kent State’s Brain Health Research Institute.