The Virtual Dementia Tour

by Brian A. Boys

For those who have family members or loved ones suffering from some form of dementia, one significant challenge that they face is trying to understand just what the person with dementia is going through.  For those who care for these individuals, this challenge becomes even more prevalent as the caretakers attempt to provide the best care possible.

The Virtual Dementia Tour is a system that was developed by geriatric specialist P.K. Beville to offer hope to caregivers by providing tips and the tools necessary to create an environment that supports dementia education and lessens confusion.  The idea of the Virtual Dementia Tour is that the only way to effectively create a positive environment for those with dementia is from walking in their shoes, literally.

The Virtual Dementia Tour attempts to put caregivers in the world of their patients so they can better understand it.  The caregivers experiencing the tour wear special goggles that simulate the macular degeneration from which many patients suffer.  The caregivers wear gloves designed to mimic the effects of arthritis.  Plastic spikes are placed in the caregivers’ shoes to create the “pins and needles” and neuropathy that affect many patients.  Lastly, the caregivers wear headphones playing a mixture of a static-filed radio, garbled speaking, and other jarring sounds.  Once suiting up, the caregivers are sent into a small room or apartment that is dimly lit and given a list of tasks that they must complete.  These tasks can include sorting and folding a pile of laundry, finding a specific page in a book, setting a table, writing a note and putting it in an envelope, and pouring and drinking a glass of water.  All of these tasks are to be completed in a set amount of time, at the end of which there is a debriefing session where the caregivers can review their performance and discuss the feelings that they experienced.  As one can imagine, in this environment, even the simplest of tasks becomes difficult.

The Virtual Dementia Tour is available to caregivers, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, memory care units, families of loved ones suffering with dementia, or anyone who has an interest in learning more about the experience of people suffering from this disease.  It is a powerful experience that sometimes leaves the participant in a state of anxiety or depression.  Hopefully though, after taking the tour, the participants are better prepared both to identify with and to understand their loved ones’ behaviors and needs.

To learn more about the Virtual Dementia Tour or to inquire about setting up an experience for yourself, visit the website of the Second Wind Dreams at www.secondwind.org.  Founded in 1997, Second Wind Dreams is a non-profit organization that focuses on granting dreams for elders in the United States.  Its mission is to enhance the quality of life for those living in elder care communities and to change the perception of aging, through the fulfillment of dreams and educational programs.