'Dementia Tour' helps caregivers empathize

  • Published
  • By Steve Pivnick
  • 81st Medical Group Public Affairs
This year's observance of Nurse and Medical Technician Week included a unique element, a "Virtual Dementia Tour."

Organized by Lt. Col. Jacqueline Mack, 81st Medical Operations Squadron family health flight commander, and Maj. Carla Leeseberg, 81st Medical Group education and training flight commander, the May 11 "tour" provided nearly 60 81st Medical Group Hospital staff members the opportunity to simulate symptoms of dementia sometimes suffered by elderly patients.

Colonel Mack explained, "The Virtual Dementia Tour was developed by P.K. Beville, founder of 'Second Wind Dreams,' and is based on two studies. I initially experienced the VDT during
the Mississippi Nurses Association conference in 2010. It made me more aware of how frustrating it can be when you lose your 'senses' and still have to do simple everyday tasks. After going through the tour, it made me have more patience and compassion when taking care of dementia patients. I felt the VDT would be ideal to share with our caregivers at Keesler and, through the education and training fight, we were able to purchase the 'Second Wind Dreams' kit for the hospital."

She continued, "It's an individual experience through simulated dementia; participants become dementia patients through simulation. Each participant is impaired both physically and cognitively, then placed into a 'VDT experience room' and asked to perform five simple tasks. There are behavioral observers in the room documenting all of the behaviors. Participants complete a preand post-test and we ask them to describe their feelings before and after the experience."

Major Leeseberg observed, "We try to simulate arthritis, neuropathy (numbness and tingling), loss of fine motor skills, vision loss, macular degeneration and hearing by having participants wear goggles, distort sound through headsets, by placing popcorn kernels in their shoes and rubber gloves, and taping fingers to simulate arthritis."

"Each staff member came out of this experience with a new perspective on caring for the demented patient," the major added.

After participating, Lt. Col. Patricia Brown, 81st Surgical Operations Squadron, commented, "I now understand why they get frustrated when we hurry them along with tasks. I couldn't hear and my glasses were removed to put on the goggles which made it even more difficult for me."

"We had overwhelming positive responses that indicate the VDT will change how the staff cares for dementia patients," Colonel Mack commented. She added she hopes to offer the VDT monthly in the education and training patient simulation lab, but with alternate tasks.