Experiencing Dementia

Publish Date:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


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Colored-tinted goggles with an obstructed view cover your eyes, sharp pains fill the soles of your feet, your hands are thick, clumsy and lack feeling, and there is a constant loud noise coming in your ears that sounds like the noise of a busy dinner hall being fed through a radio that is off by one station.

This is how you begin to experience the Virtual Dementia Tour.

Once a month, at Sunrise Senior Living, the staff offers a small class for anyone who is interested in literally taking a walk in the shoes of someone who suffers from dementia. The goal is for family members or caregivers to have a better understanding of what someone is dealing with when they have issues with memory loss.

Shelley Harris, who is the director of sales at Sunrise Senior Living, runs the small groups, of about five people, through the exercise each month.

“The idea is that we want you to immerse yourself into these feelings and understand what it feels like to have dementia,” Harris said. “Not everybody will have all of these manifestations, but they might have one or two. But, it is just to kind of give you a slam-quick feeling of what someone might experience.”

With goggles, gloves, and headphones on, and with small spikes in the shoes, people are taken into an unfamiliar room and told, very quickly, to do a number of tasks. The tasks range from folding laundry to arranging dishes in a specific manner.

The group quickly found the noise coming through the headphones to be a main distraction, which was exasperated by loud and very unexpected sounds like slamming doors and sirens.

Kathy Ryan was one of the people who took the tour last week. She believes her mother is showing slight signs of dementia and is beginning to prepare herself for what she might need to do and how she might need to act in the future.

“I was distracted by the noise. When she gave me the instructions, I wasn’t able to pay attention,” Ryan said. “I found that noise to be so distracting and when that sound of what sounded like a door slamming happened, I almost jumped out of my skin.”

The tour is designed to confuse and disorient a person along with giving them a number of tasks that are simple, but are given in such a way that they are easily forgotten.

When the tasks were forgotten, some people got frustrated and negative statements come out under their breath while others coped with the situation by laughing. In past tours, some people sang, hummed or talked to themselves, which is what caregivers see in people who suffer from dementia.

“People who are ornery or say mean things are just manifesting from the dementia and from the environment,” Harris said. “They are not just trying to be difficult. It is part of what is going on with their process with the environment.”

The idea and hope of the tour is for people to take what they have learned and use it when dealing with a person who suffers from dementia.

“It really helped me see the world through their eyes,” Ryan said. “This really gives you an idea of what they are going through. It was very frustrating and enlightening to me.”

The tours are held the fourth Thursday of each month, with the exception of Nov. 21 and Dec. 19. The tour can also be taken and set up out in the community at a home or a school. To experience the tour, contact Shelley Harris at 888-8400, shelley.harris@sunriseseniorliving.com, or stop by Sunrise Senior Living at 4975 N. First Ave.

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