We know that Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. But how many of us can really describe what it feels like to have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia? Sometimes we need to walk in another person’s shoes to fully know how they experience life. To that end, Family Resource Home Care is offering the Virtual Dementia Tour® (VDT) to help caregivers better identify with their client’s day-to-day struggles.

Created by P.K. Beville, a specialist in Geriatrics, the VDT was developed to simulate the dementia experience with the intent of sensitizing and elevating the understanding of caregivers. This is accomplished through a simultaneous combination of sensory distractions that impact the individual’s visual, auditory and tactile senses.

The VDT utilizes gloves and shoe inserts that simulate the loss of sensory nerves and fine motor skills and the onset of arthritis and neuropathy, goggles that simulate the effect of glaucoma, cataracts or macular degeneration with the accompanying loss of central or peripheral vision. VDT also includes headphones that play a cacophony of noise and voices that simulate the noise that typically fills the head of the dementia patient.

Once suited up, the caregiver is given several simple tasks to complete in a given period of time, such as folding laundry or finding a specific item in the kitchen. Studies of individuals while participating in the VDT show that they almost immediately begin to feel distracted by the noise coming from the headphones. In an effort to keep their thoughts organized, many start to talk to themselves, repeating the steps of the tasks they are trying to perform. The shoe inserts make walking difficult and painful and the participant begins to drop things because their fingers are taped together inside the gloves. Their drastically reduced abilities, combined with the need (or perceived need) to complete a task most often generates feelings of confusion and panic.

Since many of the physical and mental constraints of dementia are invisible to others, the VDT is a powerful tool to increase awareness of what life is like for loved ones and clients who are living with dementia. The impact of the tour helps caregivers recognize the need to keep tasks tangible for their clients who have dementia, reduce distraction and confusion by limiting the noise in the home, and be patient. Rushing someone who has dementia will only cause frustration and anger for the caregiver and client alike.

To watch a video of a Virtual Dementia Tour® in action, go to: ABC Nightline Virtual Dementia Tour

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