Several months ago I had the opportunity to participate in “The Virtual Dementia Tour”. I was at a conference for the Alzheimer’s Association. The Virtual Dementia Tour was the most useful exercise I have ever participated in when trying to understand what a person with dementia experiences.

A company called Second Wind Dreams developed this tool to help professional and family caregivers better understand the needs of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The tour starts out with the subject having to wear several items that will distort their senses. These include latex gloves with fingers taped to simulate arthritic hands, goggles to distort vision, a bead-like substance in shoes making it uncomfortable to walk and ear phones with constant noise. The subject is given 5 simple instructions and 12 minutes to complete them.

I was unable to hear the instructions because the noise coming out of the earphones was very distracting.  Many people with dementia complain of hearing constant noise and several are hard of hearing. The lighting in the room was also similar to that of a strobe light which in combination with the goggles made me feel like I didn’t know which direction I was walking. Finally, I had a lot of difficulty picking items up with my hands. I accomplished 1 out of the 5 tasks. During this time I spent most of the time wandering, became somewhat agitated and was frustrated that I couldn’t complete most of the tasks. Sound familiar? In the end, the instructor came to me and told me my 12 minutes were up.

What did I learn in those 12 minutes? People with dementia can’t follow a list of multiple tasks, not even more than one at a time. But the most important thing for me? When the instructor came over to me and talked to me at eye level and put her hand on my shoulder to tell me I was done I felt safe again. I was no longer lost. I have tried to incorporate simple communication techniques, i.e. stating one thing at time, communicating at eye level and even giving a reassuring pat on the shoulder in my work with clients. It has definitely made a positive difference. This experience also helps caregivers understand why their loved one is acting a certain way which helps them develop more patience and empathy for the person with dementia. If you can participate in The Virtual Dementia Tour in person that is the best experience. Otherwise watch the following video clip and get a peek into their world – CLICK HERE

Roslyn Paine, MSW, LSW
DignityFirst Health at Home Care Manager