Simulation teaching NJ residents, cops what it’s like to live with dementia
Just going to the next room to pour a glass of water can be an extremely difficult task when your vision and other senses are playing tricks on your brain.
That's an everyday struggle for some individuals living with dementia. And until recently, one couldn't really understand that struggle unless they themselves were diagnosed with the cognitive disorder.
Through the use of gloves, headphones, and specially designed glasses, participants of a relatively new training exercise are getting the opportunity to temporarily experience the symptoms that individuals with dementia might experience daily.
Dementia Live, crafted by Texas-based AGEucate, has 10 licensed providers in New Jersey. These providers have been trained to provide the simulation training themselves.
"Recently we went to the Evesham Township Police Department. We've done local first responders. We do families of those who are living with dementia," said Jackie Fix, executive director of Arbor Terrace Marlton, a senior living facility.
Arbor Terrace's eight New Jersey locations offer the educational service to those who want it.
"It's not a pass or fail test. It's an opportunity to really get a feel for what it's like to live with dementia," Fix said.
According to Laura Ellen Christian, vice president of client engagement for AGEucate, much of the general public wrongly assumes that all individuals with dementia are struggling with memory loss — and that's it. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type and cause of dementia.
"It really goes much deeper than that, and that's what this experience simulates," Christian said.
Participants are sent into an "experience space," equipped with headphones that deliver noise meant to confuse the listener, glasses that mess with one's depth perception and peripheral vision, and bulky gloves that mimic the loss of fine motor skills. They're given a small list of seemingly simple tasks to complete.
"It gives you an opportunity to develop empathy, and consider the perspective of what someone living with dementia might look like," Fix said.
The training is particularly important for law enforcement, Fix noted, because it can help them identify symptoms when they're on an unfamiliar scene, and better prepare them to approach individuals who appear to be living with dementia.