Virtual Reality (VR)
What is it like to experience Alzheimer’s? Several virtual reality programs have been designed to try to help high school students, medical, nursing and pharmacological students and caregivers experience what it is like to have Alzheimer’s. The idea behind these projects is to promote empathy for the person afflicted with dementia, to understand more what they are experiencing and to become more compassionate for their suffering. Various organizations buy or rent these programs to train their staff, caregivers or students about Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Alzheimer’s Simulation Room or Lab
Some of the programs take you into a special room or lab that is designed to resemble what a person with dementia sees, hears and feels. For instance, there may be sudden loud noises, flashing lights and signs that are blurred and cannot be read.
Other programs will give you virtual headsets that will literally put you in the shoes of someone with Alzheimer’s. You will see through their eyes, hear through their ears and in fact you may even get to hear their thoughts.
Virtual Dementia Tour by Second Wind Dreams, Georgia
The virtual Dementia Tour, which was produced by Second Wind Dreams, a non-profit organization in Georgia, offers special headphones, gloves and eye glasses that allow people to experience for themselves the kinds of mental and physical hurdles that people with dementia have to cope with. Second Wind Tours claims that more than half a million people have experienced their Virtual Dementia Tour and in fact a simulated version is also being utilized by the Alzheimer’s Association.
Embodied Labs, Los Angeles
This virtual reality story-telling program allows you to experience what it is like to be a fictional character suffering from dementia. Carrie Shaw, the CEO of Embodied Labs developed the model of the program in 2015-16. Carrie became a caregiver at the age of 19 when her mother contracted early onset Alzheimer’s, while Carrie was a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Carrie said the program has trained more than 2,000 caregivers by 50 organizations in 14 states and four countries. Their programs are available to hospital systems, higher educational institutions and long-term care and senior services.
Simulated Fictional Experiences with Headphones
The Beatriz module is made up of five-minute stories. Beatriz is a 60-year-old Latina math teacher and by wearing the headphones you can experience what it is to be Beatriz, as she moves through the various stages of Alzheimer’s dementia. You see what she sees and hear what she hears. In the early stage of Alzheimer’s Beatriz is sitting in a park with her daughter, but becomes paranoid and thinks her daughter stole her purse. In the middle stage of Alzheimer’s Beatriz is sitting in her living room, but mistakes a shadow on the wall for a dangerous man and also hears a roar which turns out to be the noise from a fan. Her daughter enters the room, opens the blinds letting light into the room, so that the shadow disappears.
The module for Alfred is a live action film. Alfred is a 74-year-old Afro-American man who is suspected of having mild cognitive impairment (MCI) along with age related vision and hearing loss.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the world’s most common dementia affecting 5.7 million Americans and more than 50 million people worldwide. It is an incurable progressive disease that causes extensive memory loss, psychiatric behavior problems, personality changes and an inability to function. Eventually, Alzheimer’s patients may no longer recognize family members. In the last stage the patient is bed-ridden unable to do anything. Alzheimer’s causes tremendous emotional and financial stress on family members, especially spouses. Most of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s are taken care of by voluntary unpaid caregivers who are usually family members, often spouses who are also aging and have their own health problems.
Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York
When you can no longer care for your loved one and need to think about long-term skilled nursing care, be sure to choose a care facility that specializes in memory care like the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York. Van Duyn also has fantastic recreational therapy programs. Van Duyn also offers respite care if you need a break and you will know that your loved one is safe and being properly cared for.
Everyone who is a caregiver should try to attend a virtual reality program. Contact the Alzheimer’s Association to learn about virtual reality programs in your area.
24/7 Helpline of the Alzheimer’s Association