Today I had virtual dementia for 10 minutes, and that was plenty.
At Seasons of Danvers we were taken on a “virtual dementia” tour. We were outfitted with simple equipment and then given tasks to do. We got headphones, shoe inserts, gloves and glasses.
The headphones played continuous chatter, TV noises, traffic noises and general everyday noises that we are usually able to filter. With the headphones, the background noise became the same level as the person speaking directly to me. I couldn’t distinguish what I was being asked to do. I couldn’t tell her words from the TV voices. A distant siren is a common sound to us but can be frightening and foreign to a person with dementia.
We wore glasses that made the world blurry and partially obscured. Peripheral vision was limited so that anything off to the side was not really visible. We couldn’t see “out of the corner” of our eyes.
The shoe inserts were hard plastic with little ridges. The sensation was meant to feel like a neuropathy (nerve damage) that often affects the feet. It wasn’t painful to walk, but it was uncomfortable, and we were aware of each step. Our walk became more of a slow prance.
Lastly we wore thick gloves. Buttoning, fastening a belt, and writing all became difficult. I tried to fold a napkin. I tried to write with a pen. It was possible but clumsy.
I was told to set a table and draw a clock and a few other things that I couldn’t hear. When I finished drawing the clock, I didn’t know what to do. There was laundry scattered on a bed, so I started folding. That was not one of my “tasks,” but I felt useless standing there doing nothing for two minutes.
What seemed most important was the challenge of every negotiation with the world outside my own head. It was a challenge to walk down the corridor with noises coming from everywhere. Movements of other people were hard to interpret. Were they directed toward me? Was I supposed to respond?
Our tour leaders emphasized that a person with dementia wants things simple and one thing at a time. Getting out of bed and putting on slippers and putting on a robe is not one thing. It is three things. Each task should be dealt with separately. It takes time.
The 20-minute tour was fascinating and free. It is offered quarterly at Seasons of Danvers, a nursing home specializing in dementia care. If you are interested in taking the tour, contact Seasons of Danvers at 978-777-0230.