Virtual Dementia Tour proves eye-opening experience

Published 5:10 pm Thursday, September 17, 2009

Imagine what it’s like to do your activities of daily living when your body and mind no longer work as they used to. Imagine the frustration of vision clouded and blocked by disease; fingers that have lost their agility and sense of touch, hearing hampered by strange sounds and “voices in your head.”

Suddenly, as simple a task as putting on a sweater, setting a table or pouring yourself a drink of water can be incredibly difficult.

Welcome to the world of the dementia patient.

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Local citizens and healthcare workers got a first-hand look at this world through the Virtual Dementia Tour held at Stabler Hospital on Thursday.

The free event was co-hosted by the hospital, Stabler Home Health and Crowne Health Care of Greenville. It was designed to give participants a chance to gain a better understanding of what a loved one or a patient with dementia is living through.

Each participant filled out a pre-test and then got prepped by volunteers. On went goggles that cast a haze and threw black spots into one’s vision. “These simulate a person with cataracts or macular degeneration,” it was explained.

Hands were slipped into gloves with fingertips filled with popcorn kernels to mimic neuropathy and subsequent loss of sensation in the fingers. Fingers were taped together, taking away even more dexterity.

More kernels taped to the bottom of the feet or inserted into shoes simulated neuropathy of the feet. And a headset fed white noise or radio voices to mimic the odd sounds and voices many dementia patients find “live in their heads.”

Each participant was then led into a room where they were given a set of tasks they had to do without any assistance while they were being monitored.

Once they completed their stints in the Virtual Dementia Room, everyone returned to fill out a post-test. By 12:45 p.m., 65 people had given a half-hour of their day to undergo the experience, which ran from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.

According to hospital staff, the Virtual Dementia Tour drew a good cross-section of the community. Many expressed a greater empathy and compassion for those dealing with the deficits caused by dementia after walking a brief “mile in their shoes.”

The event was also sponsored by the Area Agency on Aging, Sells Medical Equipment, SouthernCare, McLendon Medical Supply, Pine Needle Place, AlaCare, Hometown Medical Equipment, Georgiana Health and Rehab, Stabler Senior Care, Senior Circle, Comfort Care Hospice, Amedisys and Homewood of Greenville.