Senior living facility brings reality to dementia

A participant goes through a dementia simulation held at Prairie Senior Cottages in Isanti. Photo by Urmila Ramakrishnan
A participant goes through a dementia simulation held at Prairie Senior Cottages in Isanti. Photo by Urmila Ramakrishnan

Go into the bedroom. Find a pair of matching socks, and put them on. Make the bed, get dressed and comb your hair.

These all seem like easy enough tasks but are nearly impossible for a dementia patient if it’s done all at once.

Prairie Senior Cottages in Isanti gave caretakers the opportunity to walk in the shoes of a dementia patient through a simulation last Tuesday.

Participants looked a bit like Martians — sunglasses over their eyes, headphones covering their ears, strange gloves on their hands and studded insoles lining their shoes.

They were then instructed, over blaring incoherent noise, to walk into a dark room. Trying to decipher reality and fiction is extremely difficult. Once inside, participants were given a task. Many of them said they had the feeling they knew they had to do something but couldn’t remember. The frustration a dementia patient feels with this is everyday, but participants were able to feel that for six minutes.

Prairie Senior Cottages offered the simulation to help caretakers better understand their loved ones and patients.

Each piece had a specific purpose. The glasses simulated aging eyes that needed more light and had less peripheral vision. The gloves impaired fine motor ability, loss of manual dexterity and simulated arthritis. The shoe inserts were for arthritis and neuropathy.

“A lot of people with dementia, their feet hurt so bad from the neuropathy or the arthritis that they don’t realize that the pain is in their feet,” said Kim Stender, who runs dementia simulations. “They will take off their shoes and leave them wherever they happen to take them off.”

The headphones with random garbling simulated the pressure of knowing there was something to do, but having absolutely no idea what it was. It impaired the ability to understand the spoken word, which is something common with dementia patients.

“One of the last things they can still recognize is the sound of their own voice,” Stender said. “It’s one of the only sounds that they still recognize. It helps them stay grounded in their environment.”

She urges caretakers to be more understanding.

“You were garbed and in that room for six minutes, you came out, you can go back to your life the way it was 10 minutes ago,” Stender said. “These people are living that 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

She also encourages caretakers to give instructions one at a time and make sure patients feel independent enough to do their own tasks.