2YH: Virtual dementia tour aims to offer empathy through experience

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - If you close or cover your eyes, it's a window into what it's like for someone that's blind. If you plug your ears, you'll have a sense of what it's like for someone who is deaf.

Charlene Walker takes a virtual dementia tour at the Alzheimer's Resource of Alaska to get a sense of what it's like for someone living with the disease.

In this week's two your health, we get a window into what it's like for someone living with dementia through a virtual tour that gives a whole new meaning to living in someone else's shoes.

"Your physical and sensory abilities will be altered," said Alzheimer's Resource of Alaska Education Specialist Debbie Chulick to Charlene Walker.

Walker is taking the virtual dementia tour, but in order to do so, she has to simulate stepping into someone else's shoes.

She's given a pair of gloves that represent the manual dexterity issues that people might have as they age and inserts to go in her shoe with a poke side to simulate some discomfort.

She's then given a pair of goggles that will alter her vision and limit her peripheral vision and finally, a pair of specially made headsets that give off noise distortion that people with dementia may experience.

"It was a little nerve racking, definitely emotionally exhausting," said Walker after her 10 minute tour was over.

She was led into a dark room and given 5 tasks to complete. Everything from finding a white sweater and putting it on, to clearing the dinner table and writing a note to her family, all had to be completed with parts of her vision, hearing and senses impaired.

"That was one of the most powerful learning experiences I ever had," said Walker who's father passed away from Alzheimer's 3 years ago.
She said at the time he was diagnosed a few years prior, she knew she wasn't going to understand everything, but thanks to classes, research and the tour, she was less afraid.

"Instead of putting a plate in front of him in his assisted living home, when I was there I would cut up his food and I would help feed him and it was okay because he was getting the love and care because I understood. I didn't walk away. I was there and able to help him," she said of her late dad Fred Harron.

Walker smiled as she remembered her dad saying he was one of those parents that you went to for everything. He was her friend.

Chulick said the take away is empathy for elders and the hope that people would learn to be more patient with them.

"Certainly try to maintain their independence as long as possible, but to realize that their physical and sensory needs might be changing."

The next virtual dementia tour is Monday, June 17, 2019 at the Alzheiemer's Resource of Alaska. Appointments are available from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Sign up is required for the session and spaces are limited. It takes approximately 20 minutes to complete the tour.

Contact Debbie Chulick at (907) 561-3313 or email her at dchulick@alzalaska.org for more information.

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