On Thursday morning, about 17 Pearl River County Residents took a virtual tour through the eyes of a dementia patient.
Picayune’s Highland Community Hospital teamed up with the Mississippi State Department of Health’s Division of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementia to stage this one-day event for caregivers and family members of those living with dementia.
According to alz.org, dementia is the term used for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.
Dementia can significantly impair memory, communication and language, the ability to focus and pay attention and visual perception.
Melora Jackson works in the Alzheimer’s division of MSDH and said the virtual tour provides education and training to help caregivers gain a better understanding in how to care for a dementia patient.
P.K. Beville, a geriatrics specialist, created the patented sensitivity training Jackson said, and has been used in several countries as well as throughout the United States.
“Mississippi is the only state that offers these tours free of charge to participants because the state has a government agency for this disease,” Jackson said. “The cost of a Virtual Dementia Tour kit is about $500 and the cost to participants is about $20.”
The proceeds from kit and tour sales are used to benefit the Second Wind Dreams foundation, Jackson said. This foundation helps fulfill the dreams of senior citizens in long-term care. These dreams can include meeting a celebrity, flying an airplane, traveling to the ocean and many more.
For Thursday’s tour participants were split into groups of four. The remaining members in the group watched the 2004 PBS documentary “The Forgetting” while waiting their turn.
In the first room of the tour, participants were asked to place spiky inserts into their shoes, vision goggles over their eyes, headphones on their ears and a pair plastic gloves and work gloves on their hands.
“The shoe inserts simulate neuropathy,” Jackson said. “The gloves on the hands are used to limit dexterity and grip. Visions goggles simulate macular degeneration, cataracts, and yellow film on eyes and limits on peripheral vision. The headphones play a confusion soundtrack complete with startling sounds.”
In the second room, participants were asked to complete basic everyday tasks including putting on clothing, folding towels, matching socks, setting the table and writing.
There was a strong light in the room because some dementia patients report random flashing lights, Jackson said.
The tour is designed to make people fail, Jackson said. The goal is for people to experience the frustration and confusion that comes from the inability to complete simple tasks.
“I think today’s first session went pretty well,” Jackson said. “It was effective and gave folks good insight into providing care for their loved ones. They learned a lot of new things. It’s a very effective tool.”
Robyn Pascal works as an LPN in the geriatric psych unit at Highland Hospital.
“Both of my grandmothers were diagnosed with dementia,” Pascal said. “I see these things everyday at work. It’s good to know how they feel. I can now better explain it to my family.”
Kim Inman is a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient and wanted to know as much as she could about the disease.
“The confusion they feel makes more sense to me now that I’ve gone through this tour,” Inman said. “I can understand their frustrations now. It’s a horrible disease. I would advise all caregivers to take the virtual tour and learn this great information.”
Caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients often need support themselves. There is a monthly caregiver support group that meets in Picayune the first Thursday of every month from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Senior Center at 45 El Patch Parkway, Picayune. For more information about this program, contact Sara Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 601-987-0020.
Learn more about the MSDH Division of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia at www.dmh.ms.gov, Second Wind at www.secondwind.org and Alzheimer’s at www.alz.org.