top of page

The Person Comes First – Part 2

Updated: Mar 9, 2023

This year’s online Validation World Congress was on the subject: The Person Comes First. Last week I shared some of the important insights I gained from the first session of this conference which included panelists Naomi Feil, the creator of Validation, a method for reaching and communicating with people who have cognitive change and Myra Garcia, an extraordinary woman who is living with young-onset Alzheimer’s. Naomi and Myra shared what their needs are as an older person and as someone living with dementia, as well as tell us how we can help them live their lives to the fullest. You can view the recording of the full Validation Conference here, or you can read the summary of the first session in our blog post: The Person Comes First – Part 1

In this blog post I will be discussing the valuable insights I gained from the 3rd panel session on Person-Centered Care Methods Rooted in Empathy. The session featured Dr. Cameron Camp, who has pioneered the use of the Montessori Teaching Method for individuals living with cognitive changes, and Dr. Al Power, who has challenged traditional perspectives on dementia.

One key takeaway from the session was that both methods of person-centered care have the potential to reduce or even eliminate the need for antipsychotic medications in individuals with cognitive impairments.

Person-Centered Care Methods

In the 3rd session of the Validation World Congress, Dr. Cameron Camp and Dr. Al Powers shared their empathy rooted methods of Person-Centered Care for people who are living with dementia.

Both Dr. Cameron Camp and Dr. Al Power have made remarkable contributions to changing the way we approach dementia care, and they have done so by sacrificing lucrative positions to pursue this important work. Through their innovative methods and educational efforts, they have the potential to impact millions of people living with dementia.

You can view the recording of this session of the Validation World Congress for free, but I will be sharing in this blog post some of the highlights from this conference that I hope will entice you to view at least parts of this conference.

There was so much important information packed into this one hour session, that I was surprised when I viewed the recording of this session, of how much I had missed when I viewed the live conference. I hope by writing some of the highlights, all of us will be able to retain more of this important information.

Montessori Method for People with Dementia

I have heard about Dr. Maria Montessori's education method used to help people who are living with dementia and was amazed to discover how many similarities the theory and techniques share with Naomi Feil’s Validation method. Therefore I was very excited to hear Dr. Cameron Camp who discovered that the Montessori Teaching Method could be helpful for people living with dementia.

Dr. Camp explained that the Montessori method not only teaches empathy, mindfulness, common humanity, and kindness, but it can also help people with dementia acquire new tools and understanding. This challenges the common assumption that individuals with cognitive impairment cannot learn something new. As professionals and caregivers, we often default to doing things for individuals with dementia instead of teaching them.

Dr. Camp shared an eye-opening exercise he conducts with staff members at senior facilities. He tells everyone that he has toothbrushes and toothpaste and asks them to brush each other's teeth. Initially, the staff may assume he's joking, but he explains that when you brush the teeth of someone with dementia, they may sit there and endure it, but they don't necessarily enjoy it.

He emphasizes that we can enable people with dementia to regain their ability to brush their teeth by demonstrating the process step by step. Each person holds the toothbrush and/or toothpaste in their hand, and they are guided through each step, such as opening the toothpaste cap. The other person then follows suit. This approach allows the person with dementia to learn at their own pace and with the support they need.

The staff's reaction is often surprise, and they may express that they were never instructed to demonstrate a process. Dr. Cameron likens it to remembering how to ride a bike, which is only possible if someone is allowed to get on the bike.

By providing people living with dementia with the capacity and agency to learn, we can help them maintain their independence and dignity. This simple exercise of demonstrating is just one example of how the Montessori method can be applied in senior care facilities to enhance the quality of life for those living with dementia.

Residents Gain Control Over Their Lives

Dr. Cameron Camp shared how the Montessori Method is applied in practice, including the creation of resident committees that empower individuals living with dementia to take control of their own lives.

Through these committees, residents can make decisions about a range of topics, from choosing where to go on outings to determining meal options and how to welcome new members to the community. By involving residents in these decisions, they can maintain a sense of agency and control over their lives, which can be especially important for individuals with cognitive changes.

Residents may also create Rules of Conduct which have included:

  • This is our home, don’t assume we cannot do something

  • Ask, don’t tell us

  • No feet on the furniture

  • Wearing pants is not optional

  • Be kind

  • No insulting

  • If you insult you must apologize

  • Don’t gossip

  • Don’t enter another person’s room unless you are invited

During meetings and gatherings, the Rules of Conduct are frequently reviewed and posted on walls, allowing residents living with dementia to learn and follow them. This means that if someone does behave inappropriately, the rules can be referenced and reinforced.

As Maria Montessori famously said,

Everything you do for me you take away from me.

By empowering individuals living with dementia to take control of their own lives and make decisions through committees and the Rules of Conduct, they can maintain their independence and agency.

Conflict Resolution

Dr. Camp shared how his wife Linda emphasized the need for tools to resolve conflicts peacefully if individuals living with dementia are going to be able to express their personal preferences and take control of their lives, rather than "just sit in wheelchairs along a wall with their chins in their chests."

As a Montessori teacher with over 20 years of experience, Linda taught young children about conflict resolution through tools such as peace corners. Together, they co-authored the book Teaching Empathy and Conflict Resolution to People with Dementia.

Having Rules of Conduct is one tool for conflict resolution, but Dr. Camp also described the significance of locations where mediation or conflict resolution takes place. He stressed the capacity of persons with dementia to learn locations and associate feelings with them.

Dr. Camp reminded us of the strong reaction a resident with dementia may have if they come to the lunch table and find someone else sitting in their usual seat. He emphasized that even after a dementia diagnosis, people can still learn locations, as evidenced by their ability to remember their designated seat after moving into residential care.

When there is a location to go to for resolving a conflict, people learn to associate feelings with the location. Dr. Camp explained that when we understand the capacity of persons with dementia to learn, we can create what is called in Montessori terms a “Prepared Environment” for mediation.

Dr. Camp emphasized that it's not intuitive for many people to resolve conflicts and that we need to provide tools for peaceful resolution. In addition to apologizing, asking for forgiveness puts control in the hands of the person who was hurt and is a deeper way to resolve conflict.

I think about the recent violent events in care homes resulting in the deaths of residents. Could these tragedies have been prevented if staff were trained in conflict resolution?

Talking Object

I enjoyed learning about the Talking Object, a useful tool for communication and positive interactions from Montessori Method for people living with dementia. An object is used to give someone their turn to talk.

Depending on what the group decides, a Talking Object can be a ball, stick or other object. When someone holds the object, they have the right to speak and others must listen respectfully without interrupting.

This method can also be used for expressing gratitude and appreciation in a “thanking circle” that uses an object. A person who holds the object can thank a fellow resident or staff member. It can be for something as simple as “I like the way you smile.”

Dr. Camp emphasizes the importance of allocating time to focus on positive things that bring joy.

In conclusion, the Montessori Method has shown great promise in improving the lives of people living with dementia. The Montessori Method offers practical tools such as:

  • Resident committees

  • Rule of conduct

  • Prepared environments for mediation

  • Talking objects

These can greatly benefit those with dementia. By incorporating these principles, we can promote a more fulfilling life for those living with dementia and improve the overall quality of care provided in residential facilities.

To learn more about Dr. Camp's work please check out his site and see the wonderful free resources available. Resources:

There was such a wealth of valuable insights shared during Dr. Cameron Camp's presentation, that I will share Dr. Powers' presentation in next week's blog post. Stay tuned for more valuable information on person-centered care methods rooted in empathy for people living with dementia.


I'm excited to be on the panel with this incredible group of women at the:

Loving Care for Caregivers Summit

Save your place! March 14th, 12-2 EST (New York Time)

Loving Care for Caregivers a 2-hour free live virtual summit for caregivers

Join us to learn how to feel Energized, Improve Memory, Avoid Burnout &Play with Lego.

Participation is free, but you need to register to receive the Zoom link.

Please check when the summit begins in your time zone. For more info and to register:

Would you like to learn Hands-on Dementia at your own pace?

You can learn how to use simplified hand reflexology to help and connect with your loved one who is living with dementia and as well as use it for your own self-care.

Hands-On Dementia For Caregivers

A step by step guide to learn 3 reflex points to help your loved one and yourself.

Our eBook includes video clips for self -learning. Get it now while it is still on sale!

Recent Posts

See All


Subscribe to our blog

At Hands-on Dementia we teach how to communicate at a deeper level with people who have memory loss, but we also encourage everyone to take steps to keep their brains and body healthy to prevent getting dementia. 


Our weekly blogs are about understanding dementia, how to communicate better, healthy aging and preventing dementia.  


Please subscribe so you’ll get notifications of our next blog.

Thanks for subscribing to our blog!

bottom of page