Walking in the shoes of someone with dementia
PUBLISHED: 09:46 23 October 2017
In life, you may sometimes look at others and think “I wish I could see what they see; have the same experiences in life; feel what they feel; enjoy what they enjoy”.
However, if you found that walking in their shoes made you feel uncomfortable, disorientated, vulnerable and confused you’d quickly go off the idea. What if there was no escape and this was your new life? A terrifying prospect.
1 in 5 people in the UK either have, or are likely to develop, dementia; of those born today that figure rises to 1 in 3. It is likely that many of us will develop it as we get older, or will know someone who does.
Although Birtley House Nursing Home does not specialise in dementia care, and are unable to accept the most challenging cases, all staff receive basic training as part of the very wide syllabus we cover with our Nurses, Carers and support staff. Our forward-thinking Matron/Registered Manager, Karen Williams, decided to take the training a stage further and arranged for the Virtual Dementia Tour to visit; this is the only scientifically and medically proven method of giving a person with a healthy brain an experience of what dementia might be like. By walking in the shoes of a person with dementia, the aim of this simulated training experience was for us to start to understand the issues that they experience every day.
36 members of staff were trained throughout the day. Divided into groups of three, wearing glasses which mimicked macular degeneration; headphones which played a cacophony of random sounds; with inserts in our shoes which made even standing painful and large gloves so that we lost much of the peripheral sensitivity in our hands, we were moved into a darkened room with flashing lights. We were thrust out of our comfort zone and into a world which was terrifying. Although the time spent within the bus was only eight minutes, it seemed an age and was utterly exhausting. In the extensive debrief sessions we all described slightly differing experiences, showing us that people with dementia will not experience an identical path and progression of this disease. However, we all experienced feelings of confusion and isolation. We felt lost, disorientated, intimidated and vulnerable; often unable to move, to follow simple instructions, to complete simple tasks. We often felt that the safest thing to do was nothing!
The purpose of training is to learn - what did we take away from that day? It had helped us to begin to understand and empathise with the day-to-day experiences of people living with dementia. What will make them feel more comfortable, what will help them maintain dignity and what will help them to make sense of the confusing world around them. By making some simple adjustments to the way we give care, we can start to improve the lives of people living with dementia. We will do precisely that.
Coincidently, Jeremy Hunt, our MP, had arranged to come to Birtley on that day to chat to our Residents. So, we took the opportunity for him to speak to the Trainer and to give him a brief insight into what people living with dementia experience. It was a very powerful and thought provoking day.