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Like I've never seen before

By Staff
Melissa Cason
Southern Manor Assisted Living in Russellville hosted a dementia tour last week to help educate caregivers about the way dementia affects the elderly.
The tours were held Wednesday and the facility reported a good turn out for the event. In an effort to educate myself, I decided to go through the tour.
The first thing I did was complete a questionnaire about the way I thought dementia affects people and how I perceived their difficulty in day-to-day lives.
Then I went to a room, and they got me ready. They put popcorn kernels in my shoes to simulate foot problems, which are common in the elderly, and put gloves on my hands to simulate arthritis. I wore a special pair of goggles to make it difficult to see, which is very common in the elderly.
After all this stuff was on me, they gave me head phones that made noise, and gave me five simple instructions.
As the instructions were being read to me, I understood the first two, but the other three were a mystery to me.
They took me into the room to complete the tasks. First I was looking for a white sweater, but could not find it easily so I went to the second task of writing my family a three sentence letter and putting it into and envelope. That was very difficult. I could hardly write, and when I was done with my very messy note, it got crumbled as I tried to get it in an envelope. Needless to say the post office would have rejected my note to my family had they tried to mail it.
Since I didn't really remember the other tasks, I looked for the sweater again. As I was starting to get frustrated, I was the table with plates, cup and utensils sitting there so I decide I must have to set the table.
So I did. That was even difficult. My hands would not let me easily place each place setting there with care. I basically had to just put the place together, and when I was done it was messy and not very attractive- nothing like a place setting should.
After I set the table, the lady conducting the test gave me a hint to look for the white sweater I was supposed to put on so I started looking in the closet.
The first door I opened was the bathroom door, but I soon figured out where the closet was and found the sweater. Putting it on was equally challenging.
I kept thinking this is a simple task, why can't I get it done. I remember even thinking that the lady in the room with me must have thought I was stupid.
After a few minutes, I got the sweater on.
I could not remember what the other things I was supposed to do was so I just stood there looking confused.
The lady gave me another hint so I decided that I needed to fold a towel so I did, and no it wasn't easy. Right after I got the towel halfway folded the staff member came to get me because my tour was over.
The experience was definitely an eye opener for me. After the experience, I completed another questionnaire, and my answers completely changed.
I guess the experience showed me that we really don't know what someone else is going through until we walk a mile in his or her shoes.
As I walked in the shoes of a dementia patient, I felt overwhelmed by the simplest of tasks, and I felt silly or stupid by not being able to complete those tasks as I could have had I not been impaired.
While I did learn a lot from the experience, I am lucky. I am not dementia patient, at least not yet. I was able take off the equipment and go back to my normal life. Dementia patients don't have that luxury. They have to cope with their illness everyday for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, as the years pass for a dementia patient, the symptoms get worse instead of better.
I think everyone, not just caregivers, would benefit from this tour to help them understand the things our grandparents, and great-grandparents face.

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