An inside look at dementia was an eye-opening and sometimes emotional experience for participants during the day-long simulation at a Langley seniors care home.
The immersive experience used a variety of methods to blur vision, impair movement, hearing and touch as well as overloading participants with confusing input while they attempted to carry out simple everyday tasks.
Called the “Virtual Dementia Tour” the program was developed by the non-profit Second Wind Dreams organization in Roswell, Georgia in a bid to raise awareness and train caregivers by simulating the effects of aging and dementia to allow anyone to personally experience what it feels like.
In B.C, the program is run by Bria Communities, which operates four senior care facilities, two in Langley and two in Delta.
For January, Alzheimer’s Awareness Month across Canada, the program invited local elected officials as well as medical staff and administrators of facilities that care for people with dementia to take the tour.
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Held at the Sunridge Gardens facility, the event saw small groups of people rotated through one-hour sessions that began with a orientation, followed by several minutes in a room learning what a person with dementia experiences, then a follow-up debriefing.
“It was very emotional,” said Langley City councillor Rosemary Wallace, who has been helping to care for a family member with dementia.
“I was lost and confused.”
The difficulty of trying to do the simplest tasks helped her to understand the frustration expressed by the family member, Wallace said.
“It’s surreal,” said Langley City Mayor van den Broek, whose mother developed dementia late in life.
To experience what it’s like is a good way to gain patience and understanding when dealing people who have dementia, the mayor said.
“It makes you really think.”
As a result, van den Broek said, she better understands the need to keep statements short and simple, and why people with dementia can become overwhelmed when there are too many people around.
Langley Township councillor Kim Richter called it an “eye opener.”
“I always though dementia was about memory loss,” Richter said.
Richter thinks Langley Township firefighters, who often deal with people who have dementia in their role as first responders, should take the tour.
Janice Miller of Bria communities, said most people have the same reaction to the experience.
“They say, I had no idea. I had no idea what they [people with dementia] were living with.”
So far, 250 to 300 people have taken the tour since it began being offered in B.C., mostly Bria staffers.
“It evolves a level of empathy when you experience it [dementia] first hand,” Miller said.
Adrienne Alford-Burt, executive director of the The Village memory care project for people with dementia that is under construction in Langley, said taking the virtual tour was a valuable experience.
“I think it’s a great sensitization exercise for anyone caring for people with dementia,” Alford-Burt said.
Plans for the Village project in Brookswood call for accommodations for up to 76 people with dementia, who will live in a village setting complete with cottages, shops, a café, a farm, a salon, fish and duck pond, crafting and art spaces, and a community centre.
Staffed by 72 specially trained employees, The Village’s goal is to create a memory care community that will become the new standard for person-centred care.
It’s expected to open later this year.