Have you ever wondered what people with dementia experience in their daily lives? According to the World Health Organization, 55 million people are currently diagnosed with dementia. With so many living with this disease, there is a need for compassionate and understanding caregivers.
First Colonial Inn, an assisted living facility Virginia in Virginia Beach, now offers Virtual Dementia Tours (VDT) to help train and educate people on certain ways dementia patients interact with the world. VDT was created by P.K. Belville and Second Wind Dreams, a nonprofit organization committed to helping others understand aging.
I recently had an opportunity to experience VDT firsthand, and it changed my perspective on the everyday struggles dementia patients go through.
Before The Tour
I first put plastic soles with tiny plastic spikes that poked the bottom of my feet into my shoes. They caused slight discomfort and pain to represent what most dementia patients feel. “The main thing is the pain,” Belville said during a previous media interview. “A lot of people with dementia can’t articulate that they are in pain.”
Next, I put on medical gloves and large, thick gloves over top and was handed glasses that blurred and distorted my vision. After that, I had headphones placed on my head with loud constant noise that blocked everything else out. All of the gear was to help create an environment that simulates what someone with dementia deals with.
We were led by Juleah Best, a wellness assistant at First Colonial Inn, to a dim room with strobe lights flickering on and off. I was guided into the room and all of my senses went on overload.
Between not being able to see, constantly hearing loud noises from the headphones and fumbling my way through the room, I could feel my heart starting to race. I was guided into a bathroom and I couldn’t hear any directions given to me. The whole time I was thinking, “What am I supposed to be doing? I guess I’ll just find something to do.”
I was feeling around on the counter and found pill jars and a pill organizer. I tried to open some of the jars and put the pills into the organizer, but I failed to open them due to the gloves slipping. I got frustrated and started breathing harder because the simulation began to stress me out. Time seemed to lag on until I finally felt a hand on my shoulder and was directed out of the room.
Debriefing the Chaos
Best talked about each aspect of the gear that is part of the tour and what each was meant to simulate. The spikes in the shoes are supposed to mimic neuropathy, while the gloves demonstrate loss of motor skills.
“I think that this virtual tour allows the individuals to be emphatic,” Best says, “in ways that they were unable to be prior to taking the venture.”
According to Best, during the tour I started to sway back and forth on my feet, which someone with dementia tends to do for comfort. I also jumped at multiple points from loud bangs and sirens that played through the headphones. My involuntary reactions to things, similar to a dementia patient’s response, made me realize how useful VDT is in training for dementia care.
Experience of a Lifetime
Taking part in the VDT showed me why dementia patients can be irritable from pain, jump from loud noises and struggle with everyday tasks. It was only a small window into how they perceive and interact with the world, but it was enough for me to grasp some of the basics of the challenges they face.
“I think anyone working in senior living should most certainly go through the VDT,” Jackson Cherry, the executive director at First Colonial Inn, says, “as it is vital to understand the ways we need to change our behaviors to improve our resident’s experience.”
According to the World Health Organization, 10 million new cases of dementia are diagnosed worldwide every year. Of the 55 million total cases, about 60% are in low-income or middle-income countries. The Alzheimer’s Society notes that two out of 100 people between the age of 65 and 69 will be diagnosed with dementia. Experts predict an exponential increase in dementia cases by 2050. However, early detection is advancing with a new blood test that identifies Alzheimer’s before brain scans and has a 94% accuracy rate.
To participate in a Virtual Dementia Tour, email Juleah Best at Juleah.Best@KiscoSL.com.