We can’t truly understand what others go through unless we have been in their shoes. Fortunately for caregivers, the inventive Virtual Dementia Tour Program comes as close as anything can to helping caregivers - whether medical people, social workers or family members - understand what their patients or loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are experiencing.
P.K. Beville, founder and CEO of Second Wind Dreams, has now received the U.S. Patent for his Virtual Dementia Tour program which has already been experienced by 500,000 people in 14 countries. Second Wind Dreams was formed in 1997. The name is derived from a novel of the same name, written by Beville who is a geriatric specialist.
"The solution to Alzheimer’s disease today and in the foreseeable future is in developing a better and more personal understanding of the day-to-day challenges facing those with the disease," Beville said. "The Virtual Dementia Tour program is the tool that makes that understanding possible."
The VDT is widely used in the UK. According to Glenn Knight, Training2Care (UK) Ltd Managing Director, "The major benefit of the Virtual Dementia Tour is that it gives you a window into the world of those suffering with dementia. It truly is an unusual, emotional and very thought-provoking experience. It’s impossible to know exactly what it feels like to have Alzheimer’s, but the Virtual Dementia Tour brings people closer to what it is like to have dementia than any other system in existence."
I wholeheartedly agree. It’s been several years since I experienced this sensitivity training, however the memory is deeply etched into my brain. My experience is documented in a HealthCentral two part series titled Dementia Boot Camp: Training To Be a Caregiver Part I and Dementia Boot Camp: Training To Be a Caregiver Part II.
As documented in Dementia Boot Camp, my ability to see, hear and understand the world as it is was slowly diminished with a few fairly low tech additions:
She covered my ears with ear phones emitting jabbering background noise, rather like a muted radio talk show [my eyes were already dimmed by special goggles]. 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 second part of my adventure had me trapped in a wheelchair, my arms tied down so I couldn’t stand. Strange food that I couldn’t see because of sight limiting goggles was pushed into my mouth by aides while they gossiped about boyfriends and then noted loudly how frail and sickly I looked, saying "This one won’t last long." I was so immersed into the feeling of helplessness that, looking back, it still shocks me. As the experience ended, these were my thoughts:
She was untying my arms as she talked. The other aide and her charge were back, too. They told us where we could empty the popcorn from our shoes. My first thought was, "You mean I can stand up? I’m free?" I got out of the chair, somewhat amazed that I could. I found my voice, but it wasn’t quite right. Very humbly, I asked, "Where do we put the gloves?" I found I couldn’t really make eye contact.
My personal experience was a hybrid of programs, but the majority of it came from Second Wind Dreams. In my view, every geriatrician, every nursing home administrator, every nurse and CNA who care for elders with dementia should be required to complete a course like this. It would be wonderful, as well, if the course could be offered by nursing homes to any family caregiver who chose to learn how to look at life through their impaired loved one’s eyes. This patent for the non-profit Second Wind Dreams is well deserved. We can hope that the new visibility of the program will go a long way toward making this ideal a reality. I am thankful to Second Wind Dreams and wish them enormous success in their work.
Second Wind Dreams. (2013, June 3) Dementia Expert P.K. Beville Receives U.S. Patent for Virtual Dementia Tour ® Program. Retrieved from https://www.secondwind.org/about/media/dementia-expert-pk-beville-receives-us-patent-for-virtual-dementia-tour/
Training2Care: Virtual Dementia Tour. (2013) May 31).Retrieved from https://www.training2care.co.uk/blog/virtual-dementia-tour_1.htm_
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.