I was recently invited by the First Colonial Inn, a senior living community in Virginia Beach, to attend a “virtual dementia” tour. The tour is designed to increase sensitivity toward those with dementia. To say it was “eye-opening” would be a misnomer, but I will explain that later.
My mother succumbed to Alzheimer’s 6 years ago and my father now suffers from dementia. Many of my friends have, or have had, parents, friends or other loved ones who have also suffered from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. My connection to this illness is personal. I served 6 years on the board of the regional Alzheimer’s Association, so I was anxious to accept the offer of this tour.
Prior to the tour, we had to “suit-up,” which included inserts for our shoes with small, sharp pins to mimic the pain many elderly people feel when they walk. We were presented with a pair of glasses, which restricted much of our vision—an experience I would equate to macular degeneration. We also wore a pair of thick gloves with the thumb and index finger sewn together to give us the lack of dexterity that many with dementia experience. Lastly, we were given a set of headphones to deaden the noise level and make hearing difficult.
The lights were turned off with a little strobe flashing, and then our instructor recited five quick instructions for us to do, which were basic household chores like fold the clothes, count the money, set the table, etc. For me, I only heard and understood, “set the table” so that is what I focused on first.
During the course of this tour, I wandered around and found other chores. I don’t want to tell the whole story or spoil the experience for others who may want or need to take the tour. As a functioning, cognitive person (at least I hope I am), this tour was a challenging game. I wanted to beat the others in the room and be successful at as many tasks as possible.
I knew that at any time, I could rip off the headphones, glasses and gloves and take those stupid pin pads out of my shoes. Yet, I still found it very stressful and very confusing. I felt many frustrations that I see my Dad deal with daily. I saw myself approach some of the everyday tasks in the manner that I see him approach them. It truly did give me better insight into what he deals with every minute of every day.
This tour is open to any caregivers who would like to experience it. I would highly recommend it. If you have family members living with this disease, take the tour. This is a patented tour (c 2017 Second Wind Dreams, founded by P.K. Belville) and offered free by First Colonial Inn. A big “Thank you” to First Colonial for inviting me.
Randy Thompson, Publisher