Ian experiences life living with dementia
Stood alone in a dark room, nervous, not sure what to do and suffering from pins and needles, I stand feeling disorientated as loud noises clatter in my ears.
It sounds like some form of torture but in fact this was all part of the Virtual Dementia Tour I took part in on Monday.
The US-developed sensitivity training was part of Glemsford-based The Briars Residential and Care Home’s activities during national Dementia Awareness Week.
Given a head set and glasses with very limited vision, you are put into a darkened room.
You also have thick gloves on that leave you fumbling round and insoles that make you feel like you have shingle in your shoe.
The gloves and lack of vision take away your ability read and write.
Straight away there are confusing sounds and conversations going on, and the limited vision makes you disorientated.
The lady running the exercise looks at you but you can’t see what she is saying so you just stand where you are.
Apparently this is common for dementia sufferers who often await instruction.
I must have stood still for several minutes before I was given another instruction which I could understand.
I was to ‘find something useful to do’.
‘What?’ I decided to start packing things into a suitcase. I don’t really know why.
Then I was asked to match pairs of socks. Trying to find them proved almost impossible, let alone pair them.
When the instructor then took away some of my socks and messed them up I was furious. I wanted to lash out at her for ruining my hard work.
If you imagine the situation in a care home, she was probably trying to help but it didn’t feel like that to me.
Another individual, who I later watched, grabbed tightly at a bundle of items she was collecting when the instructor tried to remove them.
What was clear was we all reacted differently.
Some were calm, some spent time talking to themselves and some always waited for instructions before doing anything, including when the fire alarm went off.
Course facilitator Lauren Billsland said this was common with dementia sufferers.
“People with dementia really feel they need permission to do things,” she said.
“Some people feel they need permission to eat their food or to even go to the toilet.”
Many different things happen during the scenario.
At being cornered by several people one woman got flustered, her breathing rising, becoming agitated.
The ‘victim’ here was Amanda Pettit.
She said. “It looked like I’d got nowhere to go. I knew where I wanted to go but they were all standing there. It felt like I was going to be stuck there.”
This simulated what can happen at Christmas when suddenly residents in care homes are crowded round by family members.
We were asked not to repeat many of the tasks you are given to ensure it remains a shock for others that take part.
It truly was an eye-opener for all of us, some participants were carers from the home, others family members of those suffering with dementia.
It made you realise both how difficult it must be to live with dementia but also how seemingly impossible it is to support others suffering.
What you may feel is supportive can seem obstructive and frustrating to the sufferer..
Only now can I truly appreciate the effort put in by our courageous carers.