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What It's Like to Experience Alzheimer's: A Virtual Dementia Tour

Shannon tends to ponder things a little more than in passing. Sometimes things are worth writing about in case others find interest as well.


Alzheimer's Disease is a particular form of dementia that steals more than just the memory of the person it takes over. It changes the way families interact with one another and it takes away a person's independence in the cruelest of manners. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to stop it once it starts. It slowly destroys the brain cells until it eventually causes death. Though advancements have been made in treatment options and preventative measures, no cure has been found.

Most of us have dealt with the disease personally, either directly as a caregiver or indirectly watching someone else take care of an Alzheimer's patient. If neither of those scenarios fit, we know someone else who has had to deal with the awful reality of it somehow. But do we fully understand it? Many of us think we do, though our understanding of it is limited.

What if you could experience dementia firsthand? Would that make you more compassionate, more understanding, more patient, and less irritable when dealing with someone suffering from the disease? Most of us will never have much of an inkling of what it is like inside the mind of an Alzheimer's patient. Even after learning more about it, our understanding is limited. However, there is something everyone can do to grasp the reality an Alzheimer's patient is dealing with more effectively. Take a virtual dementia tour. It will change your perspective.


What Is a Virtual Dementia Tour

A virtual dementia tour simulates some of the things a person with dementia might be experiencing. Although it cannot accurately replicate the brain deterioration or other causes of dementia, it can provide a better understanding of why a person with dementia behaves a certain way. The experience sets the person taking the tour up for failure. Why? Because the goal is for people to understand that behavior is not always a choice, as we are conditioned to believe.

Individuals taking the tour have a device placed in their shoes to create some discomfort walking, which some elderly experience for various reasons. Next, gloves are put on the hand or tape is used to tape a couple of fingers together, which simulates arthritis or the loss of sensory and tactile function experienced as a normal part of aging. Goggles over the eyes simulate common eye conditions, such as glaucoma or macular degeneration. Last, a headset is placed over the ears constantly playing noises imitating all the cacophony that some patients have difficulty tuning out. Conversations, for instance, of several parties at once, a firetruck siren going by, or a telephone.

Then a person is given a list of five simple tasks to complete before being sent into a simulated living environment. Each person participating is given ten to fifteen minutes to perform these tasks to the best of their ability under those conditions. Many times, only one person at a time is sent in, but sometimes the guides stagger the starting time of the participants so that more than one person is in the living area at a time. No one is given the same list of tasks to complete as another participant, however. It sounds like a piece of cake. It is not.

Taking the Tour

This very eye-opening experience was something that I did with my best friend, Cheryl. In some ways, it was what I expected it to be after first learning about the tours. In other ways, it was not what I expected. There were many moments of clarity, especially afterward, and the discussion following the experience was perhaps the most enlightening for me. It was then that we were fully able to make connections between what we experienced for only ten minutes and what dementia patients experience on an ongoing basis. Reading and observing are very different from doing.

Before we started, we filled out a brief questionnaire relating to our current state of mind. Our answers were both the same.

  • Do you feel capable of carrying out simple tasks? Yes.
  • Are you relaxed? Yes.
  • Do you think people with dementia (always) get the care they need? No.
  • Do any of the following characteristics apply to you as of the last 10 minutes: pacing, negative thoughts, talking to self, following others, searching for items, difficulty understanding directions? No to all of the above.