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Understanding Dementia

March 15, 2012 in News

Have you ever lost patience with an elderly person while standing in line because they were fumbling around in their purse to look for something? Or perhaps you’ve found yourself frustrated while speaking with an aging loved one because you have to tell them to do something multiple times? If this sounds familiar, it could be that you’re interacting with someone suffering from dementia. Apart from the time I’d spent with my grandparents, I had no prior experience in dealing with the elderly population until I began working for Attorney Heather Kirson about two and half years ago in her practice of elder law. I learned quickly that this process required a great deal of patience and compassion on top of speaking loudly, slowly, and often times repeating myself. While I became used to dealing with the elderly in a different manner, I didn’t have a clue what it must have felt like for many of our elderly clients to go about their days with difficulty seeing, hearing, or remembering things; that is, until recently. A few weeks ago the staff of The Elder Law Center of Kirson & Fuller participated in a Virtual Dementia Tour put on at The Center for Memory Disorders. The tour was designed as a hands-on, experiential tool for anyone looking to understand the physical and mental challenges of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. The tour began by separating each of us into different groups so that we wouldn’t be tempted to rely on one another during the experiment. I was seated in a small room I was instructed to place insoles covered with small, round bumps inside of my shoes. I was handed a pair of goggles with smudged lenses to wear. There was one hole in each lens the size of a pen cap with which to see through. I was then told to put on two pair of gloves. When I placed them on my hands I realized that each of the finger tips had been filled with beans making it extremely difficult to grasp things. Finally I had to wear a set of headphones plugged into an MP3 player which filled my ears with a static noise. After being prepped for the tour I was led down a hallway and told that I would be entering a room and would need to complete 5 tasks. I strained to listen to the tasks as they were being read to me. Through the static I was able to hear that I needed to fold five washcloths, remove two white pills and write two things about my family on a sheet of paper. I was unable to hear the other tasks I was read. I entered a small dark room with a flashing strobe light. The goggles impaired my vision a great deal and I felt disoriented and extremely uncomfortable. I found a pile of laundry and searched for wash cloths to fold. Amidst the towels and shirts I found only two and after digging for a few minutes I gave up and moved on to the next task. I came to a sheet of paper and a pen and fumbled to write legibly as the gloves made it difficult to hold a pen. I made my way to the pill bottles on the counter and after removing two, proceded to accidently drop them both on the floor without even knowing it. Although I knew I had been given two more tasks, I could not hear them so I waited impatiently for my time to expire. When the experiment was over I was lead into a waiting room and my test results were reviewed with me. I was told that I was shadowing the other participant in the room, that I was hoarding belongings, and that I simply gave up at the end (because I did not complete my tasks). I felt extremely frustrated and overwhelmed after only 5 minutes in one small room. My feet were sore from the insoles and I couldn’t get the goggles and earphones off of my head fast enough. The thought of having to spend all day every day in this state was almost more than I could bare. I began to understand why people suffering from dementia often appear disoriented and even the smallest of tasks can seem overwhelming to them. My viewpoint of this disease changed in a matter of minutes as I was shown the perspective of someone with difficulty seeing, hearing, poor circulation in the hands and feet and a constant state of disorientation. The next time you stare impatiently at your watch as you wait in line behind an elderly person moving a bit slower than the rest of us, stop to think about why they may be taking so long to find their check book or to remember their phone number.  For more information on how to understand the challenges experienced by someone suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, or to take the Virtual Dementia Tour as I did, contact The Center for Memory Disorders at (407) 447-5971.


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