Please wipe this mess off of my face. Please!
Don’t go so fast, I can’t swallow! I’m not ready for a drink yet.
Is this bite going to be hot or cold? Sweet or bitter? Pureed meat or pudding?
Please wipe my face!
Let me start at the beginning: A couple of weeks ago, I attended a training program at Bethany Homes, a care facility near my home. They make this sensitivity training program mandatory for their staff. Bethany uses a combination of “Dignity & Sensitivity: The Ultimate Boot Camp,” from Gemini Consulting and the “Virtual Dementia Tour” (VDT), a program from Second Wind Dreams.
Because I am an elder care columnist, I volunteered to go through the training. When I arrived at my appointed time, I was excited and a bit stressed. I knew it wouldn’t be a picnic, but I also knew I wanted to have this experience.
So it began.
A woman in scrubs solemnly invited me into a room and asked me to sit down at a desk. There, I took a short test asking about my perceptions of dementia care and dementia sufferers, and signed a consent form. I felt a marked change in atmosphere. Before coming to this room, I’d taken a tour of the facility, and my guide and I had an upbeat, enjoyable time. When I entered this room, the somber mood was palpable.
After I signed the papers, I was asked to move to another chair and told I could no longer talk. The woman asked for my glasses, then placed green, bug-eyed goggles on my face. The goggle lenses were foggy, with dark circles in the center to simulate macular degeneration. The area surrounding each dark spot was cloudy.
She covered my ears with ear phones emitting jabbering background noise, rather like a muted radio talk show. She poured un-popped corn into each of my shoes, to simulate the pain of arthritic feet and bunions. Another woman pulled gloves with popcorn-filled finger tips over my hands, then taped together three fingers on each hand – middle to small fingers on my left hand, thumb to middle finger on my right. I felt as though I was, bit by bit, being entombed.
The woman led me to dimly lit room and told me that I had five tasks to complete, once I went inside: find a tie and hang it around my neck, pair up six sets of socks, clear a table, draw pictures of my family and name them, and find a belt and put it on.
I gingerly found my way into the darkened room. The door closed. I saw a bed piled with what looked like sheets and lumpy linens. I started there, trying, with my handicapped hands, to dig through the pile of cloth.
I could see a tie shape. Then another. And another. I didn’t know if I was supposed to just put on one, or all that I found. I couldn’t ask the woman in the shadows, who was watching me and taking notes. So, I put on about three. I kept digging, trying to feel and see socks. At first I’d just find one of each pair (just like the dryer, I thought). Finally, I dug up a couple of pair. By then, I’d forgotten how many I was supposed to match. The voices were so annoying.