Life with dementia from the inside out

Dementia is a word that strikes fear into most people’s hearts. But given that it’s on the increase, we need to learn how to provide better care for people who are affected. To help with that, one company specialising in homecare is training its employees about what it feels like to live with the condition. That’s done via a Virtual Dementia Tour, an experience that involves sensory overload and a whole lot more besides. JUDY MURPHY took part and learned that seeing the world from that perspective can lead to big changes in dementia care.

Disorientated, frustrated and overwhelmed. Not to mention angry. Those were some of the emotions that arose while taking part in the ‘Dementia Bus’ experience at the Galway headquarters of Bluebird Healthcare in Parkmore.

The event, organised by the company which specialises in home healthcare, was for employees who look after people with dementia and the Tribune was invited along to see what was involved. It was an eye-opener.

The Virtual Dementia Tour was created in 1995 by US geriatric psychologist PK Beville, who’s been working in geriatric care since 1983, and wanted to allow professionals and family members to experience life as people with dementia experience it.

According to the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, dementia describes a range of conditions that cause damage to the brain and can affect memory, thinking, language and the ability to carry out everyday tasks.

We entered the Mobile Dementia Simulator – its proper title – in groups of threes, under the supervision of a man named Mick, who met us upstairs in the Bluebird offices and led us on our journey.  After a curt hello, he gestured at us to follow him to the vehicle. When we entered a little ante-room to the front, he handed us headphones, wrap-around plastic glasses, heavy-duty gloves and spiky plastic insoles for our shoes.

“Put those on and then follow the instructions I give you,” he said tersely.

We looked at each other, all feeling uncomfortable but did what he said.

He led us into a tiny, darkened space, which had a mock-up cooker, sink, cupboards and a door with hooks from which a few items hung.

Pictured: Healthcare workers, Niamh O’Keefe and Natalie Moran went on the Bluebird Care ‘Dementia Bus’.

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