When someone shows signs of dementia, it can be frustrating, annoying and scary for their loved ones. The individual with the disease may forget how to do ordinary tasks around the home, how to dress themselves, struggle with feeding themselves and much more. Well-meaning friends and family might try repeating themselves to get through to this person, or even yelling at them.
“Dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, is such a mystery to people, that it scares them,” explains Dayne DuVall, Senior Director at Second Wind Dreams ® which features the Virtual Dementia Tour ®. “Not only do families not know about the disease, but they are stuck in who the person was and not who the person is now.”
The Virtual Dementia Tour was created to help people—both families and health care professionals—better grasp the changes that the disease causes, and ideally educate them and change how they interact with someone living with dementia.
“Once we understand what they’re going through, we understand how we need to react to it,” Mr. DuVall, a Certified Alzheimer Educator, says.
Walk in Their Shoes
The Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT) was created by P.K. Beville, a specialist in geriatrics, in 2001 and today an estimated two million people have gone through it.
“Initially, we adapted it so it could be done in any elder care facility and today it’s offered in a variety of settings in 18 countries and nine languages,” Mr. DuVall says. “We now license it so we have a whole network of people who go through training and then conduct the tours.”
The tour has been used in hospitals, colleges, universities and home care companies and appropriate participants might include professional caregivers, family caregivers, firefighters, police officers, emergency first responders and others.
But what is “it”? The Virtual Dementia Tour is an interactive experience during which individuals are initially outfitted with ordinary garb such as gloves before they are led into a room that has been set up for the tour (depending on the location of the tour, this might be more like a house with several rooms). Just prior to entering the room, each person is given instructions for what to do once inside. The tour lasts about 10 minutes and is followed by a meeting with the facilitators so that participants can share their reaction or ask questions.
“When a family member [of someone living with dementia] goes through it, they may feel enlightenment and empathy,” Mr. DuVall explains. “But the real mission is that people might start providing better care and the data shows that they do.”
Why would walking around a room for 10 minutes change how a person treats someone living with dementia?
“We have to change our behavior and not expect them to behave as they used to," he says of individuals living with dementia. "Whether you are a professional caregiver or a family member, when you give a command or ask someone to do something they would normally respond to you, that doesn’t happen with someone with dementia because they are not capable of responding. For this reason, we have to completely rework who we are and how we interact with them.”
For anyone interested in taking the tour to gain insight into what it’s like to live with dementia, events are listed on the website.