Sugar Loaf Community Life Assistant Amy Pavlik dons noise-canceling headphones to simulate what it would be like to have dementia.
by LAURA HAYES
How would it feel to struggle to write notes, button up shirts, pour a glass of water or perform a variety of tasks that people complete on any given day? While not exclusive, these are challenges that people with dementia may struggle with every day.
For the past several years, Sugar Loaf Senior Living staff members have been required to undergo the Dementia Experience — a sensory experience designed to simulate what it feels like to have dementia. Caregivers to people with dementia may become frustrated or impatient with their loved one. “I think putting yourself in their shoes helps you realize that patience is really important,” Sugar Loaf Marketing Director Maggie Modjeski said.
The training, Modjeski said, gives staff members a better understanding of what residents who have been diagnosed with dementia are dealing with.
Last year, the city of Winona Friendship Center kicked off the Dementia Friendly Community initiative. The initiative is designed to help support community members living with dementia by working with local law enforcement, businesses, and organizations and offering informational sessions, outreach, and support groups.
While working with other groups on dementia-friendly activities, Modjeski has brought up the program. “I think it’s really opened [staff’s] eyes to the day-to-day struggles that people with a dementia diagnosis may have. There are mobility issues. When your senses are impaired, it’s hard to concentrate and to focus on the task at hand and you’re very distracted,” Modjeski said.
On Thursday, Sugar Loaf will offer the simulation to the public for the first time. The experience, Modjeski said, is perfect for anyone who has a loved one with dementia or anyone who is a caregiver. How does it work? The experience is designed to simulate what it is like to have dementia, Modjeski explained. The participant dons scratched-up glasses with the peripheral vision obstructed, noise-canceling headphones that play white noise, two pairs of gloves, and inserts in shoes that mimic the feeling of neuropathy. The participant is given basic everyday tasks to complete such as folding clothes, setting a table, pouring a class of water, and writing a note.
“A lot of [participants’] senses are impaired but then they have to try to do daily tasks and follow directions with a lot of distractions — very similar to someone who might have a dementia-related illness may feel doing similar tasks,” Modjeski said. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, some symptoms of dementia include memory loss, communication and language impairments, difficulty focusing and paying attention, reasoning and judgement impairments, and visual perception impairments.
Modjeski said while there isn’t a perfect way to simulate dementia, the experience mimics some of the sensory issues that people with dementia live with. Modjeski — like other Sugar Loaf staff members — has undergone the training. “It’s very distracting,” she said. “All of a sudden you can’t do things that used to be easy or are usually easy … It’s frustrating.”
The Dementia Experience is free and open to the public on Thursday, November 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sugar Loaf Senior Living. Reservations are encouraged and can be made by calling Maggie Modjeski at 507-452-1277 or emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org. Drop-ins are welcome.