It’s easy to see the effects of someone affected with dementia from an outsider’s perspective. We can see the signs; a loss of memory, mood swings, a difficulty with everyday tasks, and so on.
But many of us are unable to fully comprehend what living with dementia entails. To attempt to allow people to experience what it is really like, The Virtual Dementia Tour has been touring England to allow people to try out their unique virtual reality experience.
The tour, run by Experience Training Ltd, claims to be the only medically and scientifically proven way for a person with a healthy brain to experience what living with dementia is actually like.
Using specialised virtual reality equipment, along with specially designed clothing and sounds, the experience simulates the effects of living with mid-range Alzheimer’s.
It aims to allow carers working at places like dementia day care centres, as well as the general public, to have a greater understanding of what living with dementia entails in the hope it changes the way people think about the disease.
One person who was able to try out the experience was student nurse from Brighton, Charlotte. She says it has given her a greater understanding of how dementia patients feel.
“It was really scary, and I wasn’t prepared for that. Our senses were deprived with equipment like goggles and gloves,” she said.
“Other people who did the tour experienced different things as dementia affects people in different ways – some people were showing aggressive traits caused by frustration and feeling scared. Others were walking around apparently aimlessly.”
Participants like Charlotte were asked to read a chart that listed several tasks, such as placing pills from a pills box into a dosage cup for usage, that they had to complete within 8 minutes.
As many people like Charlotte found, the tasks were much more difficult than they anticipated:
“I had no idea how I would react,” Charlotte explained.
“Even though I knew the experience wasn’t real and was going to end, I was still frightened. I had an overwhelming sense of not knowing what I was doing. I was also really surprised the way noise plays a part in dementia – sounds are obscured, and the everyday sound of an ambulance siren made me scream.”
“There’s a lot more to dementia than just memory loss – it’s about your senses being deprived and how that makes you behave,” she added.
Andrea Foreman, a trainer of staff for The Virtual Reality Tour, explains the need for the people to try out the experience:
“So many people think, ‘Well, she just doesn’t listen. I get tired of her. She doesn’t listen to me. They’re listening to you. They can’t hold it.”
To encourage further understanding, participants are debriefed after the experience and asked to talk about how they felt during the trial.
Staff from The Virtual Reality Tour then discuss with participants these thoughts and feelings to allow a greater understanding of how dementia may be affecting someone around them, be it a friend or a loved one.