CHAGRIN FALLS, Ky.- Roughly five and a half million Americans live with Alzheimer's disease.
It is a long hard road, not just for those who suffer from it, but for caregivers tasked with caring for an increasingly dependent loved one.
There is a tool that can ease some of the emotional pain and frustration.
It's called the Virtual Dementia Tour.
Senior Health Correspondent Monica Robins recently traveled to Arden Courts Memory Care Community in Chagrin Falls to experience the V.D.T. program.
The experience is personal for Monica.
Her own father lived with dementia and she helped care for him until his death in 2003.
While at Arden Court, she sat down with Elfriede Hoffman.
Her husband Fred has lived at the memory care facility for three years.
She talked about the disease that has taken over his life.
"It's horrible. You see the person you've spent your whole adult life with, being erased," she said.
The Virtual Dementia Tour by Second Wind Dreams is the original and scientifically proven method of helping caregivers better understand the world of someone with dementia.
April Suva is trained in administering the tour.
"We really want you to immerse yourself in the setting and think about your feelings and what you are going through," Suva instructs Monica.
First, Monica puts painful inserts into her shoes which will help simulate neuropathy and arthritis.
Next, she puts on gloves which also simulate neuropathy and loss of touch.
Yellow goggles blur eyesight and creates tunnel vision.
The last step is to put on a headset.
It emits what is often described as radio static, with faint voices cutting in and out.
Suva says this represents confusion.
Monica is then led to the door of a room, where she will complete five simple tasks.
Suva lists the tasks, but Monica is already confused.
"Put the belt through the belt loops on the pants. Find six pairs of socks," Suva says before Monica interrupts. "I'm sorry I'm going to do what?"
Suva continues, "Clear the dinner table, draw a picture of your family and named them. Find the necktie and put it on,"
"Can you repeat that," Monica asks.
Suva replies, "I cannot."
The ten minutes start, Monica goes into the room to begin her tasks but is already confused.
"I don't remember what I'm supposed to do. Something about a belt?"
A list of tasks is also taped to the wall.
Monica checks it, but has trouble reading and comprehending it.
"I can't read that," she said.
"Find something. Oh my gosh, I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. Okay wait something about draw a picture. Draw a picture. Draw a picture," she says out loud.
Still unsure of the tasks Monica talks aloud as she moves about the room.
"Was I supposed to do something at the table? Set the table?"
"This is so frustrating. I don't remember what I'm supposed to do."
"Where would a belt be?"
"Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. This is horrible. This is just horrible."
Monica moves on to a pile of laundry and unsure of what else to do, she begins to fold it.
"I don't know I'm so lost I can't even tell what this is, is this a sheet?"
"I don't even know if I'm supposed to be folding laundry or even if it is laundry. My luck it's probably dirty and I was supposed to put it in a hamper somewhere that I can't find."
"My feet are killing me."
"Where is the belt?"
"I know I am supposed to find a belt, but I don't know what I am supposed to do with it and I'm sure I'm supposed to do something with the table. But I have no idea."
At this point, Monica's time is up and April Suva comes into the room and leads her out.
They return to a conference room, where Suva and Beverly Fertel begin to debrief Monica on her experience.
The impact is overwhelming.
"That was horrible. And that's what it was like for my dad?"
The emotion is too much as Monica realizes for the first time, what life was like for her father.
"Do you feel like you gave up?" April asks.
"Yeah, absolutely. I couldn't wait for you to come in and tape me on the shoulder," Monica said.
Fertel points out Monica's insistence on finding the belt.
"People with dementia obsess. And you obsessed about the belt. Where is the belt?"
Fertel also points out the way that caregivers can easily overwhelm someone with dementia.
"How important it is to say one thing at a time and make sure they are processing cognitively. And also processing that they can hear us and having someone with dementia even attempt to multi-task, that's impossible."
Monica admits that the 10 minute experience has left her feeling exhausted.
"That's a good point. People with dementia are often tired. And when you think about how much they exert energy just trying to manage," Fertel said.
After taking the Virtual Dementia Tour, Monica said she wished such an experience had been available, while she cared for her father.
"I would have changed everything. I would have approached taking care of my dad in an entirely different way. Had this been available when he was going through this. And how valuable this is. I mean this is priceless."
To experience the Virtual Dementia Tour at the Arden Courts nearest you (including locations in Chagrin Falls, Westlake, Parma, and Bath), call 1-888-478-2410, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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