On Tuesday, Nov. 9, members from the Alzheimer’s Association of Southwest Missouri set up a Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT) at Ozarks Community Hospital to raise awareness about dementia and aging. Throughout the day participants volunteered to take part in the 10-minute simulation. Megan and Andrea, two employees at OCH, completed the VDT and offered to share their reflections about their experience.
Reflection No. 1, Megan
My grandfather has Alzheimer’s. Going through the virtual dementia tour helped me to understand some of the things he is currently going through; for example, how he recently forgot how to use his cell phone (when he was one of the first people I knew to even get one in the first place ten years ago).
Going through the virtual dementia tour allowed me to see things from his point of view. My dominant hands were taped together, vision distorting goggles were placed over my eyes, paper booties with corn kernels were placed on my feet and ear phones with warbled sounds were placed over my ears.
With these impairments I was asked to complete normal activities of daily living. These activities included putting on a jacket, folding towels, setting the table and writing a letter to a family member. I was given verbal instructions about the tasks I was to do, but I couldn’t understand the instructions because of the warbled sounds coming from my ear phones.
I entered the exercise feeling calm, relaxed and capable. Upon finishing the virtual dementia tour I felt exhausted, irritable and incompetent. It was a horrible feeling, but one that many people with Alzheimer’s disease experience on a daily basis. After completing this exercise, I will never look at anyone with dementia in the same way or with the same impatience.
Reflection No. 2, Andrea
Today I was granted the opportunity to experience the Alzheimer’s Association “Virtual Dementia Tour” at Ozarks Community Hospital. While I had heard a bit about the simulation prior to my experience, I found the 10-minute tour quite enlightening…
Before entering the room, my co-worker Megan and I were required to remove our shoes and put booties on with popcorn seeds taped to the bottom. In addition, we put on two forms of gloves with select fingers taped together, vision-altered goggles and earphones. To add to my impairment, I was not allowed to wear my glasses (normally I wear contact lenses, but today I had chosen otherwise). All together, I’m sure we looked quite a sight!
Once we entered the room, our earphones were filled with the sounds of loud chatter and laughing. Our instructors immediately relayed a series of tasks to be completed within the given time frame. Even though these were read out loud to us, I could only hear scattered fragments of sentences, so much so that I was forced to read the lips of my instructor in order to understand what she was saying. She pointed to a list on the wall I could refer to; however (to my dismay) it offered a jumbled array of words and was little to no help at all.
I immediately looked to my other resource, Megan, for help and observed her for a bit. She seemed to know what she was doing, so I decided to follow. At one point during the simulation, we started completing the same task. We had to lean in and yell loudly at each other in order to communicate!
I don’t know how someone with dementia could handle living alone. It was such a comfort to know that someone else was experiencing the same disorientation and confusion as me; but it also made tasks twice as difficult because neither of us really knew what we were doing.
For example, one of my tasks included “clearing off the table.” I assumed that Megan’s task was to set the table, so I tried to wait until she was finished before clearing it. She never fully completed the task, but I waited until the last minute to clear the settings because I was afraid she wouldn’t know where to find them if she decided to finish her task. This confusion could have easily turned to frustration had I not known we both were impaired.
The VDT only lasted minutes; but I was glad to be done. No more scary noises, impossible tasks and confusing surroundings. I could take off the garb in one instance and gain back all of my sensory functions. Unlike those suffering from dementia, I could call it quits and return to my normal life.
The simulation was stressful, but it made me think twice. My 10-minute experience is their reality. I now feel a renewed sense of compassion for (not only to dementia patients) but for anyone experiencing a disability. I’ll never truly know what they feel until I’ve walked in their shoes; and even then, I’ve got miles to go.