My experience on the Virtual Dementia Tour

According to statistics from the Alzheimers Society, there are thought to be 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with this figure set to rise to over 1 million people within the next ten years.

We know that it’s vitally important to focus on what dementia is like for the individual in order to provide the best possible care for them. 

But is it possible to fully understand what they are going through?

Heather, a member of the Home Instead Wrexham and Flintshire team, was recently given the opportunity to take part in the Virtual Dementia Tour, which aims to give a person with a healthy brain experience of what dementia may be like.    Read her first-hand experience below.

Walking in their shoes

As someone who has worked with elderly clients for several years and seen the effects of dementia first-hand, I was fascinated to find out more about the virtual tour.  

However, whilst I am desperate to understand more about the condition, I was a little bit sceptical about how this interactive experience would be able to replicate it – I know technology is great, but it’s not that good surely?

At the start of the session, which takes place on a specially adapted bus,  I was asked to put on a variety of different clothing and equipment which is designed to mimic just some of the symptoms of dementia. 

These included:

Spiked insoles
which are aimed to replicate a condition known as peripheral neuropathy which can affect the sensory nerves and balance – I was literally going to be walking in their shoes. 

with central markings are designed to replicate the effects of macular generation – a debilitating eye condition which can cause loss of vision.

Thick gloves
to numb the sensory perceptions in the fingers

playing a range of noises such as talking, music, traffic and alarms to stifle the wearer’s ability to hear and think straight.

Once I was suited and booted, I was ushered into a small, dark room and informed that once inside I’d be given a series of ‘simple’ tasks to perform.

And of course, it was never going to be that easy was it.   Standing in the middle of the room, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing.  I could see the instructor in front of me, and I could tell he was saying something but I couldn’t understand what it was.

From the minute you go into the room, combined with the equipment you are wearing, you just feel completely disorientated.  I felt pretty useless and almost froze to the spot. 

The instructor came closer so I could hear what he said.  “Find me a matching pair of socks” was the first instruction I understood, followed by “put the plates away”.

Simple tasks that are part of an everyday routine and something I could have done in seconds at home.  But with the lack of vision, lack of spatial awareness and no ability to think straight meant I found them almost impossible.  I did find some socks but I couldn’t have told you if they were matching or not (they weren’t) and I also managed to find some plates and put them…somewhere.  I found myself apologising at the end for being silly and putting the plates somewhere they shouldn’t be. 

I had my face and hair touched while I was standing in the room – I knew who’d done it but I didn’t know why.  I could see people moving their lips, but I couldn’t fully hear or understand what was being said.  Everything that was happening inside that room was very unsettling and I couldn’t help but feel very vulnerable.  

All about the individual

One of the most fascinating parts of the tour was having the opportunity to observe others going through the same experience.  After I’d had my stint in the room, I was allowed to stay in there and observe the next small group of people who came in.    What I came away with is how everyone reacted differently.  Whilst I felt very vulnerable and almost frozen to the spot, I observed one gentleman who was the complete opposite.  He found himself lots of little things to do – he may not have been doing them right, but he was keeping himself busy at least. 

The virtual dementia experience lasts two hours but by walking in the shoes of someone living with dementia, event for just this small amount of time, can help us to understand the issues that they experience every single day. 

So after my initial scepticism, I was amazed at the new information I came away with.  It has certainly given me a deeper appreciation of the everyday challenges that those living with dementia face. 

Feelings of confusion, vulnerability, intimidation are just a small part of living with dementia, but understanding these feelings this can really help us to improve the quality of care that we provide. 

If you work with people who are living with dementia or you have a family member or friend who is affected by it, I’d thoroughly recommend going through this training opportunity if you have the chance to do so.  

It has really opened my eyes to dementia – in ways I hadn’t really imagined before.