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A visit from the Virtual Dementia Tour

Our staff here at Birtley House had a chance to experience how it feels to have Dementia thanks to a visit from the ‘Virtual Dementia Tour’. I also had a chance to take part.

The VDT was invented by a US specialist in geriatric care, PK Beville, who founded a non profit organisation ‘Second Wind‘ to change the perception of ageing. Beville wanted to change the way dementia patients were cared for by helping carers understand the reasons behind their behaviour. 

The Virtual Dementia Tour simulates the world of someone with mid-stage dementia.

Before I walked onto the bus I was given gloves, these were to reduce my sense of touch. The uncomfortable spiky insoles in my shoes were to replicate the pins and needles caused by peripheral neuropathy – where nerve endings die in the hands and feet.

Next, I was asked to put dark glasses on. They were used to imitate macular degeneration and presbyopia, which is when a person’s vision becomes blurry due to a loss of elasticity in the lens of the eye. I couldn’t see anyone in the room, leaving me disoriented and a little scared.

The headphones given to me were to reproduce the kinds of sounds heard by a person with dementia. People living with dementia don’t lose their hearing. In fact, they hear at a slightly higher volume to those without the condition. What they do lose, however, is the ability to differentiate between sounds and everything becomes chaotic. With the headphones on, I was lost in a world of unknown noise. The whole experience was terrifying.

I didn’t know what to do with myself, I was lost!

Out of nowhere a man stood next to me and gave me instructions but I couldn’t make out any of the words, only noises. He was standing too close. I didn’t like that, so I turned around. It was hard not to feel intimidated and slightly vulnerable. After being stood there for what seemed like ages but was mostly likely a few minutes he touched my shoulder and said “Well done, its over”.

Instantly my thoughts went to my Mum who looks after my Grandma who has got dementia. There are so many things I now want to tell her! How to do certain things differently to make Gran’s life a little bit less scary. By simply doing things like touching her shoulder (dominate side) before she speaks to her. Making sure my Gran has comfortable shoes. Giving her simple instruction and a sense of purpose. 

I am overwhelmed but also happy because the whole experiment has worked!!!