SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – In order to help health professionals and caregivers learn more about what it is like to live with dementia, Lake Superior State University nursing faculty recently presented The Virtual Dementia Tour over two days with Hospice of the EUP staff and others.
Twenty-five staff members from Hospice, the Merlin Home for dementia care and Hearthside Assisted Living took part in the training, which was called “life-changing” by some.
The VDT is a national program that is a scientifically proven method of building greater understanding of dementia through the use of patented sensory tools and instruction. It was invented by P.K. Beville, an award-winning geriatric specialist and founder of Second Wind Dreams, which helped provide the instruction. SWD is an international, non-profit organization that has been recognized as the first in the nation committed to changing the perception of aging through the fulfillment of dreams for elders.
“Participants wore special goggles, earphones, gloves and shoe inserts that simulated what someone might experience in relation to aging and cognitive changes, or dementia,” said Sandi King, LSSU nursing professor. “They were led into a dimly lit, residential-type room and asked to perform simple tasks. Afterward, they reflected on their experiences.”
The intensive program allowed friends, family, caregivers and the community to experience first-hand what it might be like for those living with dementia. It also provides a greater understanding of dementia and can shift participants’ thinking from fear to action.
In one exercise, participants experienced what are commonly referred to as auditory hallucinations through a simulation. While hearing voices through their headphones, they attempted to carry out a series of tasks to help them understand how life-altering the hallucinations can be for people with severe mental illness disorders.
Similar hands-on simulations allowed participants to experience situations experienced by those living with dementia. All of the exercises were designed to increase caregivers’ understanding of people suffering with a neuro-cognitive disorder, help them better understand why they behave the way they do and empathize with them, and find better ways to work with them.
“The number of people with cognitive impairment is on the rise, with no cure in sight, and it is essential that the day-to-day care of people with dementia is a priority,” said King. “Caring for those with dementia requires caregivers to be patient, understanding, and supportive.”
Tracey Holt, executive director of Hospice of the EUP, said the training was offered to staff at the Sault’s new Merlin Home for residents with dementia, as well as the staff at Hearthside Assisted Living in Sault Ste. Marie.
“This was a great example of how we can collaborate with community partners to bring training programs to those who need them. It would be impossible to send all of our staff out of town to get this training,” Holt said.
“The impact on the people who participated in the training was huge,” she added. “It was life-changing for some.”
Denise Robertson, a nurse’s aide at Hearthside Assisted Living, said, “It changed the way I look at our residents and changed the way I work with them.”
“In the first part of the program, we wore earbuds and glasses that altered our vision. The audio in mine first played music and gave us instructions to perform some simple tasks, like counting change, but then it changed and there were voices giving me negative feedback, telling me that I was stupid and couldn’t do anything right. I couldn’t do the tasks, and it made me mad, stressed and aggravated.”
Robertson said she wanted to lash out at people around her, much like what can happen with dementia patients who are frustrated.
In another exercise, Robertson said the headphones and goggles made it so she couldn’t understand at all what she was supposed to be doing, and it helped her experience the isolation that dementia patients experience.
“I felt so confused, and scared and alone,” she said. “It’s a scary feeling, but going through the training made me feel empathy for our residents. It changes the way you think of them…Now, when I approach residents, I’m totally different. I’ll say, ‘Oh, you look so pretty today,’ and things like that to try to build them up and maybe make it so they aren’t hearing negative things.”
“It’s heartbreaking to know people are going through that, and that they can’t express what’s going on in their heads,” she added.
“I think everyone should go through the training…then they can actually see what their loved ones are going through and maybe understand it better,” Robertson said. “It was the best program. I’m glad that I did it.”
“In 2015, more than 15 million caregivers provided over 18 billion hours of unpaid care to someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia,” King said, in explaining the importance of the training for both family caretakers and health care professionals.
Holt said those who took the training at Hospice and Hearthside will meet again in a few months to see if what was learned is being applied and how their care for residents with dementia may be improved.
For more information about Second Wind Dreams® and the Virtual Dementia Tour® visit www.secondwind.org.