Relatives, staff take virtual tour that simulates dementia symptoms

AUBURN, Wash. – A virtual tour is a perfect example of trying to walk in someone else’s shoes.  Right now, all around the country, people are taking a virtual dementia tour.  Think of it like drunk goggles used to simulate drinking too much.

The virtual dementia tour is a much more intense and empathetic program to give people a taste of what it feels like to have dementia.  An estimated 5.5 million Americans have the disease.  Q13 News stopped by an assisted living facility in Auburn that brought the program to our area.

“No, I was not relaxed,” said Larry Sabol, who has a wife who suffers from dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

It’s the end of a challenging 10 minutes for Larry.

“What frustrated me the most was remembering the directions I was given,” he said.

Those who undergo a virtual tour that simulates dementia have to wear headsets, gloves and special glasses.

“People with dementia don’t have peripheral vision so we mimic that,” said Vicki McNealley, corporate director of regulatory compliance for Village Concepts, which provides property management and consulting services for owners of residential and assisted living communities.

The gloves mimic an inability to properly grasp things.

Then, there’s the headset.

“We put background noise on them, so they hear alarms or telephones ringing or people talking,” said McNealley.

Now, Larry has to do basic tasks.  All of the participants are struggling, fumbling around with simple mundane chores.

“A lot of darkness, confusion, and downright terror. I also felt myself slipping away from myself,” Larry said.

It’s exactly how Larry believes his wife feels as she battles dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

“I continually try to get deeper into the experience of what she’s going through so I can better connect with her,” Larry said.

Families and staff members are encouraged to give the 10-minute tour a try to better empathize with what patients go through daily.

“To struggle every day the way our residents struggle.  Sometimes they don’t understand what’s happening with them and why they’re behaving the way they are,” said McNealley.

Why they behave that way and, more importantly, how to handle it on a deeper, more compassionate level.

“Although they seem to be receding from you as you’ve known them, there’s still that self-inside and it’s that core self that still needs nurturing and that’s more on a spiritual and emotional basis,” Larry said.