Dementia virtual experience

It’s believed that at least 5 million Americans are battling some form of dementia, and every case is different.
"The length of time, you know they call it the long good bye, so from diagnosis until death, 8-10 years, and sometimes much longer," says Michele Carlson, Dementia Educator at The Legacy Arbors. 

To help educate caregivers, friends and families about what their loved one is going through, The Legacy Retirement Community in Lincoln has added a virtual tour to their education tools. It allows people to experience what it might be like to have dementia.
They invited me (Megan Conway) to come and try it out.

"During the next few minutes, we will attempt to give you a sense of what dementia might be like. Your physical and sensory abilities will be altered," says Stacie Conner, Director of Nursing at The Legacy Arbors.

You put on multiple items.
First, are shoes with inserts that have little plastic spikes on them, to mimic the pain of neuropathy, which is numbness and pain from nerve damage in your feet.
Next, are two pairs of gloves that limit the use of your hands.
Then, a pair of sunglasses that give you a sense of the type of vision people with macular degeneration or cataracts have.
Finally, headphones that amplify certain sounds, like doors slamming, and have constant background noise.

"Megan doesn’t know it yet, but these headphones have a lot of noise," says Conner. 

Then, you go into a room and they ask you to do 5 tasks with no assistance.

"You’re going to draw a clock with hands 10 past 4. Put on, and zip up the jacket. Set the table for four. Put 17 cents in the change purse and put the batteries in the flashlight and turn it on," says Conner.

You get 8 minutes to complete the tasks. We were unable to video inside the room as it would detract from the experience, but I struggled with the tasks.
I couldn’t see much. It was hard to grab things.

"Oh, it is so hard to see anything. Is this the jacket?" says Conway.

I started to panic a little and there was constant pain in my feet.

"Man, the more I walk, the more I can feel the points on those inserts," says Conway.

With all of the distractions and frustrations, it was hard for me to remember what tasks they asked me to do.

"I think it was 17 cents," says Conway.

8 minutes later the virtual tour was over.

"Megan, your time is up," says Carlson.

"Oh my goodness," says Conway.

"Are you sweating?" asked Conner.

"Yeah, I am. Wow. That was quite the experience. Wow. I couldn’t see anything. I thought for the longest time that I only had 3 plates and there were 4 plates. And the inserts in these shoes," says Conway

I couldn’t wait to get the items off and it was very hard for me to imagine how someone has to deal with those limitations every day of their life.

"Often times what we forget, is that this was 8 minutes of your life. This is 7 days a week 24 hours a day with this disease process and it affects their entire being; from not only their memory, but their eating, their walking, so they’re completely affected by it as the process takes place," says Carlson. 

The staff at The Legacy has done the tour and the reactions vary, but everyone walks away with a better understanding of what living with dementia might be like.

"We know the disease is growing. We know the number of people are growing that have it, so without a cure, without really understanding why it happens,
I think education and understanding the symptoms is probably the most powerful thing we can do," says Carlson.

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