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Unique simulation allows family to experience dementia


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Caring for a loved one with a difficult illness like dementia can be challenging. But just imagine what it’s like for them; not remembering how to do simple tasks or sometimes even who you are. Family members recently got a unique opportunity to experience life in their shoes.

“Dementia is the silent stealer of not just memories but abilities,” explains Paula Gibson of Azura Memory Care of Eau Claire.

Caregivers and family members of people with dementia received a once in a lifetime opportunity Thursday; to walk in the shoes of someone with dementia.  But it’s not for a day.  It’s only for about eight minutes.

“We thought what better way for our caregivers to gain that experience and know what it feels like,” points out Gibson.

Participants are timed as they count change, sort and fold laundry, separate pills, make coffee and clear the silverware, all in the dark to simulate conditions of dementia.

“He wasn’t even all the way through the instructions and I already couldn’t remember what the first ones were.  I just kept saying he told me to fold towels and I kept focusing on that,” remembers Teresa Holmes, who has a mother with dementia living at Azura.  “I haven’t experienced anything like that before.  I know I’ve had anxiety before, but nothing to the level that you can’t see.”

“People who have panic attacks will know exactly what I’m talking about.  You feel like you are getting a panic attack,” explains Teresa’s daughter, Kaitlin.  “You get shaky and you can’t think straight and you just feel like you are crawling out of your skin.”

It’s all designed with a purpose; to teach patience so that family members and caregivers won’t get frustrated when their loved ones don’t remember things they’ve been able to do easily for years.

“It is frustrating,” Gibson admits.  “My father had dementia.  My grandmother did as well.  So I know how frustrated I would get with them thinking you are just forgetting; you are doing this on purpose.  They’re not.”

“I actually feel ashamed sometimes when I think of things that I assumed my mom should know,” says Teresa.  “And when she didn’t do the right thing its like, what are you thinking?  What are you doing?”

“It’s not them.  It’s the disease,” Gibson explains.  “And it puts you blaming the disease versus blaming them.”

Azura Memory Care of Eau Claire teamed up with Home Instead Senior Care to put on this simulation.

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