Understanding Dementia With Virtual Reality
October 6, 2022
As a healthcare provider for seniors, diagnoses such as dementia are not uncommon. Doctors, social workers, and nurses train to assist seniors and their families in preparing for the often complicated process.
It can become difficult to advise clients and families on what to expect when we have not gone through the changes that come with dementia.
The expression “Walk a mile in my shoes” is something healthcare providers consider when providing a diagnosis to their clients. For many diagnoses, it is possible for patients to describe what they are going through, however not everyone experiences dementia the same way, and many cannot verbalize their symptoms.
Empathizing With Your Dementia Patient
It can be difficult to ‘walk a mile’ in the shoes of some, especially those with certain diagnoses. The person with a dementia diagnosis may no longer remember how to do things they’ve done throughout their lives and may continuously repeat questions, words, actions, and motions. What seems logical to others might not be logical to those with the diagnosis and can often make it challenging for healthcare providers to comprehend exactly what their symptoms are, or explain to their patient’s loved ones and caregivers what it might feel like.
This is the reason virtual dementia tours have been – and continue to be - developed. By raising awareness and understanding of what the person with the diagnosis is experiencing, others can meet that person where they are in the moment.
Following her experience with a virtual dementia tour, Oasis Senior Living Advisor Emily Blackburn explained: “It was beneficial because I never realized that there are several conversations/noises going on in their head at one time. Also learning about the dexterity of their fingers and that constant feeling of walking on pins & needles. There was just so much that opened my eyes about what individuals with dementia go through. I’m glad this course was offered to allow me to learn more.”
Companies, including Second Wind Dreams and The Option Group, developed virtual dementia tours to help caregivers experience and learn about symptoms. According to Second Wind Dreams, the tour is: “A window into the world of dementia through evidence-based dementia simulation training that simulates the physical and mental challenges of dementia patients.”
These companies developed a way for those without the diagnosis to ‘walk a mile’ in the shoes of someone living with the challenges of dementia.
Benefits of ‘Walking a Mile’ in Their Shoes
There are multiple benefits of ‘walking a mile’ in the shoes of someone who has symptoms of – or has been diagnosed with - a disease such as dementia. One benefit is developing an understanding of what they’re experiencing as they go through their day. This makes it easier to engage with them in their coherent moments - and support them during their challenging moments.
Participating in an activity such as a Virtual Dementia Tour provides insights into the challenges caregivers navigate each day. This understanding can also lead to seeking opportunities to be supportive of their caregiver. For caregivers, it can also provide additional insight and support on how to address certain situations and daily activities.
Another benefit is being aware of symptoms someone is experiencing – who may not have been diagnosed. It’s sometimes easier for others to see what the person with the symptoms doesn’t recognize – or doesn’t want to acknowledge - and what their loved one either doesn’t want to recognize - or is so close to - they can’t recognize.
Sue Ryan has been a non-professional caregiver for family and loved ones for nearly forty years. Her journeys have included her grandmother, father, and husband. Having been a caregiver for the better portion of her life, Sue was asked to participate in a virtual dementia tour.
She shared, “I immediately said yes. How exciting to finally know what my care receiver goes through. It’s exciting to realize I’ll now improve my ability to care for my husband and improve the quality of his journey!”
Sue participated in the tour with no clues about what she was about to experience. She explained of her time during the tour, “My logical mind was trying to make sense of the experience, and nothing was making sense.”
Following her virtual tour, Sue’s first words were, “I had no idea this was what their world was like.” She went on to say, “I nearly burst into tears. First, my lack of understanding of what my husband was going through made me feel like I had been letting him down. Next, I realized I’d just ‘walked a mile’ in his shoes and would be better able to support him in the future.”
A New Perspective
Virtual dementia tours give a new perspective of what those with dementia are navigating each day. This enlightening experience provides healthcare providers with insight that they might not have had before and a first- hand experience to how hard the minds and bodies of those with diagnoses have to work - just to keep up.
According to Leeza Gibbons, the Emmy Award-winning actress, producer, reporter, and non-professional caregiver for her mom Jean, “My mom struggled with dementia for 12 years, but it wasn’t until I spent 8 minutes inside the Virtual Dementia Tour that I truly understood what her world was like.”
Taking the tour makes it absolutely clear that an important way to support someone with a diagnosis of dementia is to meet them exactly where they are in the moment. The way to do this is through massive acceptance and radical presence.
By accepting them exactly where they are in the moment, and observing them without judgment, the wisest choices can be made during times of challenge, the tiniest of beautiful moments can be celebrated, and ways to support caregivers can be identified.
Are you interested in learning more about the virtual dementia tour near you? Contact your local Oasis Senior Advisor today at (888) 455-5838.