Virtual Experience Gives Families Better Understanding of Dementia, Alzheimer's

By: Caroline Vandergriff Email
By: Caroline Vandergriff Email

Someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzeimer's Disease every 69 seconds, according to the Alzheimer's Association. While Alzheimer's victims make up the largest category, dementia comes in many forms.

For the past five years, Jo Anne Froelich has been taking care of her mom, who has Alzheimer's. It hasn't been an easy journey.

"I just think it's really important for people to step back and try to step in their shoes," Froelich said.

And now Froelich will get that chance. She's taking part in the Virtual Dementia Tour, along with Jennifer Peterson, whose mother is in the beginning stages of dementia. The tour is designed to provide a personal, hands-on look into the many challenges and frustrations experienced by people with Alzheimer's or Dementia, all in the hope of helping people become better caretakers for their loved one.

First staff at the Grandhaven Living Center in Lansing help get Peterson and Froelich in the right garb: blurry goggles to simulate vision loss, spiked shoe inserts and rubber gloves to mimic arthritis and nerve pain, and headphones with loud clutter and static. They're each given five different tasks to complete in 8 minutes.

Froelich's tasks are to to "put a belt through the loop on the pants, match 6 pairs of socks, clear the dinner table, draw a picture of your family and name them, and find neck tie and put it on."

Led into the apartment set-up, Froelich and Peterson get to work.

"You feel pretty out of control," Froelich described. "When they've given you a list of things to do and you have noise in your ears, your vision is blurred, there's pain in your feet, and you can't necessarily hear what you've been told so you're trying really hard to concentrate because you want to be successful."

But neither one could finish, or even remember, all five tasks. Afterwards, Peterson says she felt shaky, overwhelmed, and in admiration of her mom.

"This totally gives you a new sense for what's going on and builds your compassion level," said Peterson. "You really understand to some degree. I mean, I'm amazed that she functions at all."

Grandhaven Living Center hosts the virtual dementia tour for the public, and for all of their employees as well.

"Overall, it really increases the sensitivity so you know when you're caring for somebody with the disease, what you need to do to be a better caretaker," said Nora Luke, the marketing and admissions director at Grandhaven Living Center.

Some of the biggest lessons people took away from the tour were to have more patience,, and to slow down. Going through the tour shows people why their loved one can't necessarily keep up with them, and really helps them see why someone with dementia and Alzheimer's has the reactions and behaviors they do.

It's a glimpse into the often dark world of dementia, helping caretakers create a more positive environment for their loved one.


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