Virtual Dementia Tour


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Yesterday at work I brought in a local hospice company to train our staff through the Virtual Dementia Tour tool by a company called Second Wind Dreams.

The situation is set up before you arrive in a room where different tasks and objects are laid out. You’re given a headset, glasses that impair your vision, gloves to impair your dexterity, and inserts to put in your shoes that make it painful to walk.

You are then read a list of “tasks” that you need to complete before you leave the room. The reader, though, reads the list at a normal volume. I found myself saying–and heard my co-workers saying–”Hey, wait, I can’t hear you!” much like many of my residents say.

So, we went, quite blindly, into the room to complete tasks we couldn’t really hear or understand. When you get in there, you aren’t sure what to do, and you have trouble seeing. You have trouble hearing and you also have trouble picking things up because of the gloves. After standing for too long, too, your feet start to hurt because of the inserts in your shoes.

While the tour cannot simulate everyone’s experience with dementia (or aging in general) it does a good job reminding us how challenging it must be to deal with activities of daily living when you are impaired.

Here are a few things it reminded me about:

– We speak loudly and slowly to our residents with dementia for a reason. Many older adults have trouble hearing, and it’s compounded by the fact that people with dementia also have trouble processing information.

– We talk about one task at a time for a reason. The woman reading my list of tasks read a bunch of tasks at once for a reason–she was demonstrating how hard it can be to follow instructions when there is too much going on.

– We introduce ourselves when we enter the room for a reason. The headsets would randomly produce loud noises, like sirens or ringing telephones. It was only in our headsets, but it felt very real and scary. The noise was sudden, and, because you didn’t know where it came from, was frightening. 

– Aging causes physical changes in our bodies, but dementia only impairs our residents even more. These older adults are dealing with things we cannot truly understand.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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