Imagine looking at a yellowed world through a tunnel.
One in which every sound seems to be amplified, yet static dominates and masks the voices of those around you.
Imagine being unable to complete even simple tasks because of diminished cognitive ability, loss of dexterity or excruciating pain, especially in the feet.
You've just visited the daily life of many dementia patients. However, using your imagination and walking that path daily are entirely different.
The Lodge at Bethany, an assisted living community that offers services in traditional assisted living and secured memory care assisted living, as well as Respite Care, has recently gained the certification that is intended to allow caregivers and others in the community that work or live with dementia patients a chance to temporarily step into the shoes of those they care for.
The Virtual Dementia Tour is a scientifically proven method that builds sensitivity and awareness in individuals by temporarily altering participants' physical and sensory abilities. VDT simulates changes associated with cognitive decline and offers hope by providing practical ways to create an environment that supports the disease and increases understanding.
Geriatric specialist P.K. Beville, author and inventor of the Virtual Dementia To ur as her post-graduate work and founder of the non-profit "Second Wind Dreams" that makes dreams come true for elders in long-term care, was a guest lecturer recently at The Lodge at Bethany and shared how the invention came about.
"A gentleman approached me during my internship and said, ‘Why can't I get psychologists like you into nursing homes,' and I thought, ‘Well, why not me?' After my internship, I started with his chain of 11 nursing homes in Georgia.
"And a miracle occurred that first day. On my first day, I set out to do psychological evaluations and I realized, ‘This is home! These are my kind of people.'
"I knew this was where I was supposed to be. These people are different. But not only are they different, they're still functional. They were still having a great time."
It took a couple of years, but Beville came up with the Virtual Dementia Tour. Participants are garbed in patented items that she developed: large gloves that give the hands a webbed-like feeling, simulating the loss of dexterity; goggles that blur and yellow the vision, simulating sight with cataracts, and narrow the field of vision like macular degeneration, which a lot of patients experience; earphones that make participants aware of the often heightened sense of noise that elderly patients acquire, as well as the inability to filter background noises; and shoe inserts that simulate the constant extremity pain some patients feel.
Then, participants are led into a small room, like a bedroom, and given five simple tasks to carry out, with no additional help beyond the first set of instructions.
Many participants are openly moved following the brief exposure to a dementia patients world, some weeping with frustration, compassion and new-found awareness to their patient's world.
Becky D. Livingston, CEO of The Lodge at Bethany, is thrilled to make available the Virtual Dementia Tour to the community: first responders, caregivers, medical personnel, nursing students and other individuals who work with senior citizens.
"From the beginning, The Lodge has opened our doors for the community to come in and get as many blessings as they give, through volunteering and being a part of The Lodge," Livingston said. "Our goal is to honor God in everything we do. We're not just looking inward, but looking outward to be part of the community."
Livingston pointed out that those experienced in the field predict that dementia will affect one in every six by the year 2020.
"The Virtual Dementia Tour can help us better understand the disease and how to deal with it."