Have you ever wondered what it might be like to have dementia? Or maybe you have a family member who has been diagnosed with dementia and you are having a hard time understanding why your loved one behaves in certain ways?
I was recently invited to a “Dementia Virtual Tour” at a local Senior Living facility, Commonwealth Senior Living. Not knowing much about what I was signing up for, but always eager to learn more about how to help Seniors, I accepted the invitation.
When I got there, I was escorted to a room within the facility where I assumed there would be a group of other folks who registered for this event. I was wrong! Not prepared for what happened next, I played along. I was asked to put inserts in my shoes “prickly side up”!
If you are familiar with the floor mats that go under an office chair with spikes on one side to grip the carpet, you can imagine what I was asked to wear. I was then given a pair of latex gloves to put on with a big pair of workman gloves over the top. Some of the fingers were sewn together. By this time, I was thinking to myself “what in the world am I getting myself into?”
I was taken across the hall to what I believe was one of the facility resident apartments. Before entering, I was told that I would be given instructions to do five various tasks and that I was not allowed to ask any questions or ask for help once inside. Before letting me in, I was given a pair of glasses to wear that blocked my peripheral vision and earphones were placed on my head which had many different noises playing and varying voices.
A gentleman stood before me giving me instructions that I could not comprehend due to the confusion of conflicting noises from the headphones. The only thing I heard was “and fold the laundry.”
He then took my hand, led me into the room …. and left me! The room was dark but there was a flashing light in one corner. I stood still for a moment not knowing what to do or where to go as I could barely see. I felt my way down the hall and stopped just along side of a bed. The bed was covered with items.
This was the laundry I was asked to fold. I kept walking through the room, but my feet were hurting due to the prickly inserts. I found a small table where I knocked over a glass, then struggled to pick it back up with my gloved hands.
I continued to walk around, through a kitchen and into a restroom where I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror which made me jump. About this same time, I heard loud sirens that startled me followed by a gunshot which put my heart in my throat! I continued to roam around and found myself back at the bed where I just sat down.
At this point I was starting to feel exhausted, and my head was hurting. I wondered how much longer I would be there and if anyone was going to come for me. I just wanted to curl up on that bed and rest. I started to try to fold the laundry, but again my hands just weren’t cooperating. At some point I found what I believe was a plate in the laundry.
Several minutes went by before someone came to take me out of the room. They took my shoe inserts, glasses, and my earphones and then took me to a debriefing room where I learned that they were watching me the whole time! The gloves were meant to simulate arthritis and the difficulty it gives older people who experience it. The shoe inserts were to simulate how folks with dementia sometimes shuffle their feet when they walk, which they told me was exactly what I had been doing!
The earphones and glasses were to simulate confusion and vision issues. I was told that I entered a closet where I was walking in circles and that I turned on a kitchen light and immediately turned it off again. While I did remember finding a light switch, I do not remember immediately turning it off.
I went home with a new understanding of what it is like to live with dementia. That evening, I was totally exhausted and ready to hit my bed by 7PM. I have heard of sundowning and that those with dementia are best in the morning, and I wondered if the mental exhaustion from my experience had caused this.
In a post from the Mayo Clinic, Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D. says “the term ‘sundowning’ refers to a state of confusion occurring in the late afternoon and spanning into the night. Sundowning can cause a variety of behaviors, such as confusion, anxiety, aggression or ignoring directions. Sundowning can also lead to pacing or wandering.” I could certainly understand how this could happen to someone living with these challenges every day.
Research shows that folks struggling with dementia need to socialize and remain active to slow the cognitive decline. This can be difficult given the daily challenges they face. So, if you have a loved one in your life who has dementia, do your best to provide them with regular encouragement, love and understanding.
Have patience; don’t argue with them, and play along if needed. Just because they may not remember everything you say or do, keep doing those things and engaging with them – it does help their overall wellbeing.
Equally important, if you are a caregiver of someone with dementia, be sure to take time to care for yourself and seek out assistance – whether that’s within your own family or in the community. As a Certified Senior Advisor, I can also help you to find resources that may help you or your loved one cope with this stage of life. Please feel free to reach out to me any time on 757.436.1122 or visit https://tullfinancial.com/.