“Wow! If this is what they go through, bless their hearts!” exclaimed Joetta Young, c.n.a. Staff members of Bluegrass Care and Rehab recently had a real eye opening experience as they participated in a virtual dementia session. As part of our first annual Learning Congress and in recognition of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, staff members were given 8 basic tasks to perform in 4 minutes time, but it wasn’t as simple as that.
They were outfitted with special gear, such as taped eyeglasses with only a small opening in the middle to simulate a diminished field of vision, headphones which played static noise to give them an idea of what dementia patients might hear, gloves with popcorn kernels in the finger tips to decrease touch sensitivity and, yes, even popcorn kernels in their shoes. Instructions were given to each person, as the static sound played in their ears, and they were led into the Empathy Room (a storage room converted to simulate a resident’s bedroom) where they were monitored and timed.
Tasks performed included making a bed with a fitted sheet, pouring a cup of water, finding & matching pairs of socks, opening a candy wrapper and cutting the candy in half, putting on a shirt and buttoning it up, folding towels, putting toothpaste on a toothbrush and writing a letter, folding it and putting it in an envelope. Lists of their tasks were also posted in the room, but letters were scrambled and difficult to read.
“Our goal was to give our staff members a better understanding of what our residents with dementia go through just to button a shirt or brush their teeth” stated Social Services Director, Amanda Patrick. When asked how the experience made them feel, some of the responses were; frustrated, helpless, confused, anxious, disoriented, off balance, overwhelmed, sad, lost. Housekeeper, Mesha Richardson said that it made her “scared! Because it’s things I have done my whole life, and now I couldn’t do them!”
There was a common theme, though, as to how the Empathy Room would impact their work with our residents; more compassion and understanding, allowing more time for them to process information and respond. Quality of Life Director, Darla Borthwick, brought this idea to Bluegrass Care. “I participated in this virtual experience years ago at another Signature Health Care facility and it had such a huge impact on my work! I feel blessed that I was able to bring this awareness to my Bluegrass family. It was a great success! This type of training would be beneficial to anyone. All of our lives are touched, in some way, by the effects of dementia.”
Further information, education and awareness opportunities are available in our community, such as the Alzheimer’s Association and the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.