FOX 17 reporter learns the experience of dementia through simulation

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Health experts say there are 100,000 people suffering with dementia in Kent County alone. Dementia is a group of symptoms that often distort one's personality, reasoning, and memory. It can strip its victims of their short-term memory, making simple tasks difficult to complete.

There can also be disorientation, problems with abstract thinking, and changes in mood, behavior or personality, according to Holland Home. That's why Holland Home is hoping to give others insight on what it's like to experience the symptoms of dementia.

It's called "The Dementia Journey," a simulation promoting empathetic caregiving for staff at the independent and assisted living facility.

It's an emotional experience I decided to try myself. (Watch the video.)

The simulation is aimed to teach employees how to care for those with dementia by letting them walk a mile, or more specifically eight minutes, in their shoes.

"My top priority is to create empathy for our caregivers," said Lynn Bolt, a nurse educator at Holland Home. "[Those with dementia] remember positive feelings and negative feelings, so whatever positive feelings we can bring into their life, we really want to work on that."

She helped pilot "The Dementia Journey" last November, with training of staff beginning just two months later.

"One of the poignant comments that I got was from our male caregiver who said, 'I can feel them,'" Bolt said, holding back tears.

In my simulated experience, goggles compromised my sight, my sense of touch was diminished, and my headphones filled my hearing with ambient noise.

FOX 17 reporter, Erica Francis

FOX 17 reporter, Erica Francis

I wore shoe inserts to simulate neuropathy and gloves to simulate joint problems, too.

After a short briefing, it was time to begin.

Lynn listed off five tasks I had eight minutes to complete; the first one was simply filling up a glass.

It felt like I was living in a different world, my senses were distorted as I tried to fill up the glass, then set the table, fold laundry, write a note, and put on a shirt.

I felt frustrated, confused, and defeated. I found myself wandering, frequently talking to myself.

Lynn Bolt places headphones on FOX 17 reporter, Erica Francis

Lynn Bolt places headphones on FOX 17 reporter, Erica Francis

I had difficulty remembering directions, and I had to head back to my list of tasks three times.

Soon enough my eight minutes were up; I only completed four of five tasks.

All in all, the simulation opened my eyes to how it feels to have dementia and live with it every day.

After going over several of these simulations with staff, two of the biggest things caretakers realized was that they need to turn off the extra noise and slow things down.

Currently, the simulation is only open to caregivers at Holland Home, but Lynn Bolt's goal is to expand the experience to Holland Home residents and family members.

Here is a video Holland Home produced to show what the simulation is like:

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