I was uncomfortable before the test even began.
The test monitor gave me inserts to put in my shoes that gave me the instant sensation of numbness in my feet. Looking back, I’m grateful it was just a test.
I was at Broadmore Senior Living in South Fayette recently for a “Virtual Dementia Tour,” a licensed program by Second Wind Dreams, a nonprofit organization that serves the elderly community. The goal of the tour, according to Kelly Cain, director of marketing for Gateway Hospice, is to make people “empathize” with the approximately 47 million people in the world living with dementia.
“It gives people a glimpse into this world,” said Cain, who has been through Second Wind Dreams training to facilitate the virtual dementia tour. “It’s as close as we can simulate to show people what it’s like living with dementia.”
After the shoe inserts, I’m given headphones to muffle my hearing, special glasses that simulate macular degeneration of the eyes and gloves that create the feeling of arthritis and degenerative joint diseases.
Then, the test. I hadn’t taken a test since college, and I’m glad this one wasn’t for a grade, because I failed spectacularly.
I entered a dark room, and the first things I notice are a flashing light and loud sounds coming out of a boombox. Cain then gives me directions of tasks to complete, but I don’t start listening until the halfway through, and even then, I have trouble hearing her.
“In the mind of someone with dementia, they hear all of these noises,” Cain said. “That’s why we put the headphones on, too, so the sounds are muffled.”
All I remember her saying is something about a pill bottle and folding towels.
“It’s a simulation tour. That’s why I gave you the directions fast,” Cain said. “That’s why I gave you five tasks and told them to you quickly, because people with dementia are overwhelmed by their heightened sensitivity that directions can be difficult to follow.”
I look around for the pill bottle, but I can’t find it. So I start folding the towels. As bad as I usually am at this task, it was even harder with the gloves on. I am constantly dropping the towels, and I start to feel embarrassed. Cain is watching me, and I start talking to myself, telling myself to calm down and just wait for the test to end.
I go into another room and find the pill bottle, but I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with it. I go back to folding the towels and the sheets on the bed until my time is up.
When I exit the room after the eight-minute test, I’m told I was given five tasks. I only remembered two, and I only completed one – folding the towels.
Cain said the test is mostly for caregivers in communities like Broadmore and residents who have a family member with dementia. She said this test serves as a way to allow people to “walk in the shoes” of someone with dementia.
“Now if you run into people with dementia, you’ll be more understanding of what they’re going through,” Cain said.