BRISTOL — Rebecca Jones, 27, a Herzing University nursing student, got a better understanding Thursday of what it’s like to live with dementia.
“It was frustrating and confusing,” Jones said after taking part in Dementia Live at the Westosha Senior Community Center in Bristol. “What should have been a simple task was hard.”
Participants in the program sponsored by Kenosha Area Family and Aging Services Inc. wore gloves to diminish the sense of touch and inhibit motor skills, dark glasses with lenses that simulate what it is like to have cataracts, glaucoma and restricted peripheral vision, and headphones that distorted sound.
“Many of the challenges associated with dementia stem from brain changes that affect how sensory information is taken in and processed by the brain,” Patty Collins, a registered nurse with KAFASI, said. “This is not a test to see if you have dementia. There are no scores.”
The goal is for participants to gain an understanding of how a person with dementia feels in order to elevate care.
The changes a person with dementia goes through are otherwise an unpredictable mystery that can leave family members, coworkers and friends feeling unsettled and unable to respond with compassion and empathy, Collins said.
The ‘Experience Room’
After being fitted with the sensory altering devices, participants entered an “Experience Room” where they were asked to complete a series of everyday tasks. They were given multiple, hard-to-hear instructions only once.
The tasks included things such as: feed the dog, take 37 cents out of the wallet, find the black shirt and button two buttons, and take the Tuesday morning pill (a mint) that is in the pill box.
Many of the participants Thursday said they felt a sense of dread as they looked about the room, unsure if they completed all the assigned tasks and became frustrated with how difficult it was to complete the ones they attempted.
“My initial feelings were that of confusion and disorientation,” John Harrington, 66, of Salem, said. “It shouldn’t have been, but it was hard to do the tasks we were asked to do.”
Susan Binzel, 58, of Bristol, said she didn’t realize how many “competing” distractions and influences people with dementia are faced with.
“We are all getting older, and it is helpful to know what people with dementia are going through,” Binzel said.
Binzel said the experience helped her understand how difficult it may be for someone with dementia to communicate how the disease makes them feel.
How to communicate
Collins shared tips with participants on how to communicate with people who have dementia, such as:
Always make eye contact, speak calmly with a normal tone.
A gentle hand touch can help engage the person in the conversation.
Use short, simple sentences.
“A person with dementia will often shut down when they are given too much information,” Collins said.
Those who took part in the program were also provided with information about other memory care and caregiver support programs.
For example, the Aging & Disability Resource Center offers free memory screenings, a Dementia 101 community education series and has a dementia care specialist on staff.
The Kenosha County Caregiver Support Group meets at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at KAFASI, 7730 Sheridan Road, and there is a Memory Masters program to help people with mild memory loss retain memory function by exercising the brain.
For more information about these programs and for other dementia care resources, contact KAFASI at 262-658-3508 or visit www.kenoshacounty.org/1474/Dementia-Care.