In the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch advises, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus’s words particularly hold true for people who want to better understand what it is like to live with dementia, a brain disorder that diminishes memory, thinking and communication, making daily self-care and activities a challenge.
Dementia Awareness Training
Through the experiential training Dementia Live™, professional and family caregivers, healthcare personnel, medical students and community members are learning for themselves how dementia can leave a person feeling lost in an inner world. For those assisting a loved one with dementia, the care responsibility can prove an exhaustive commitment.
Pam Brandon, president and founder of the Age-u-cate® Training Institute, the company that developed and leads Dementia Live trainings, understands firsthand the rewards and demands of family caregiving. She cared for her mother with Parkinson’s and her father with Alzheimer’s, which accounts for up to 70 percent of dementia cases in the elderly.
“There’s the saying that everyone will be a caregiver or need care at some point in their life,”
“There’s the saying that everyone will be a caregiver or need care at some point in their life,” Brandon said. “The older population is rising, and the number of those with dementia is rising. Whether you are a retail checkout person, financial advisor or family member, we will all be touched by dementia. My own caregiving journey and then work with family caregiver education really made me realize that dementia is the crisis of our day.”
To help with the dementia upsurge, Brandon and her team of coaches lead Dementia Live participants through a simulation dementia experience. The individuals who take part in the program put on specialized eyewear that limits about 70 percent of peripheral vision. They wear headphones that emit noises that confuse the brain, and slip on gloves that limit tactical processing. Wearing the dementia simulation gear, four participants are taken into a room at the same time and each given a series of tasks to complete. A trained observer watches for the typical signs of dementia such as wandering, following others around and talking to oneself. After the simulation exercise, participants discuss together how it felt to be in the shoes of a dementia patient and how the experience can improve care for those with dementia.
Individuals who experience Dementia Live come away with a heightened awareness and empathy for those who live with cognitive impairment and sensory change. The training improves interaction between the care team members and the dementia individual and helps re-engage families with their cognitive-affected loved one.
“Our goal is for each participant to leave with tools to improve communication and care processes and to make environmental changes and recognize caregiver burnout,” Brandon explained. “When you build understanding and increase empathy, it leads to higher levels of care and better quality of care. As caregivers, we need to see that it’s our job to move into the dementia person’s world and not the other way around.”
Care Training For Dementia
Jeanette Palmer, owner of the Northwest Suburban office of Right at Home in West Dundee, Ill., has trained all her caregivers and office staff in Dementia Live and has seen improved quality of care among their dementia clients. “There is social stigmatization to dementia, but most of us have no idea what a dementia individual is experiencing,” Palmer said. “We’re trying to educate the community, families and consumers to the fact that Alzheimer’s and dementia is becoming an epidemic, and we’re really just not ready for it. We are working to create a dementia-friendly community, where people have a better understanding of dementia, which leads to more compassionate care for individuals.”
Dementia Live started in 2015 and is now available in 29 U.S. states and in Australia, and it will be available soon in Asia and Europe. A number of Right at Home businesses are certified to offer Dementia Live. For more information about the dementia experiential learning in your area, contact your local Right at Home office.
What do you think it is like to live with dementia?
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.