She forgets things. Once, she was certain that her own ceiling fan remote was my cell phone and that I had left it behind in her house.
Her behaviors made little sense to me until I went on the Virtual Dementia Tour that Glenmeadow offered in February. Then, my loved one’s experience of life became painfully clear.
Developed by PK Beville, a specialist in elder care, the tour simulates what it is like to live with Alzheimer’s or another dementia by altering one’s physical and sensory perceptions, as the disease itself does. Created for health care professionals and those who respond to emergency situations, the tour is now being offered more broadly to those in the general public across the country.
It’s an educational tool that Glenmeadow is offering this year as part of its involvement in the Dementia Friendly Initiative, a statewide and national movement in which Glenmeadow has partnered with the Longmeadow Adult Center, JGS Lifecare and the Alzheimer’s Association.
“The reason we are making the tour available is to create empathy,” says Laura Lavoie, director of life enrichment. “It can help to realize what these people are going through. Rather than turn away, we want to give people the education and skills that will make it possible to walk toward them.”
On Feb. 21, the first day the tour was offered at Glenmeadow, I was one of 25 people in the community who signed up to take part; throughout the day, several first responders, health care workers, a professor from Springfield College and state Rep. Brian Ashe also went through what is called “the experience room.”
Details behind the Virtual Dementia Tour are proprietary, for reasons that are obvious to me now. It means I can’t reveal how the experience is able to evoke a powerful response, but I can tell you what resonated for me.
Tour facilitators used a handful of well-chosen devices to alter all of my senses, and then they ushered me into a room and a situation in which I was expected to take an active role. But it was dark and eerily dream-like inside the room. Objects were difficult to decipher, and it was near to impossible to understand what was required of me. I felt anxious, inept, like I was missing something.
More than once, I startled and gasped—just like my loved one.
More than once, I could not make out items that were laid on top of a bureau.
I could not read notes that were posted on a wall; it helped me to understand why it doesn’t help my loved one when we write things down as reminders.
I was weepy when I left the experience room and landed back in Cotz Hall at Glenmeadow, and was grateful to have Laura to talk with in an exit interview of sorts that is part of the tour’s structure.
Laura explained that people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias can experience nerve damage that effects their dexterity, and they often have nerve pain in their feet. Eyesight and hearing are diminished, so it is altogether difficult to assess one’s environment and situation. Also problematic is comprehending written and spoken language.
“We want people to understand what it’s like to live with dementia, so they have empathy that will inform their actions,” explained Laura, who is also a certified dementia facilitator. “For instance, if you are with someone with dementia, you will know now that it will help them to put as much light as possible on a situation. It will alleviate some of their anxiety.”
The founder of the Vitural Dementia Tour, PK Beville, has been focused on elder care since 1983. She is the co-author of a book called Second Wind, about the positive aspects of aging. In 1997, she founded Second Wind Dreams, an organization that makes dreams a reality for elders to improve quality of life.
Additional tours will be offered at Glenmeadow this year. I highly recommend that you take part. To check on the program schedule, visit the Events page. To get on the wait list for a tour, call Laura at 413.355.5905.