CRANDON - To an outside observer, people with dementia can seem confused, disoriented, or slow.
Story By Ben Meyer
But what does it really feel like to live with dementia?
While wearing futuristic-looking sunglasses, headphones and clunky gloves, health care workers and loved ones of people with dementia participated in a simulation of dementia symptoms on Wednesday in Crandon.
"During the next ten minutes, we will attempt to give you a sense of what dementia might be like," said Paula Gibson, the Director of Community and Business Relations at Azura Memory Care.
"What does it feel like? What does it sound like? What does it look like?" asked Gibson, preparing the participants to think about these questions as they entered the simulation.
Azura Memory Care, along with the Forest County Potawatomi Community, offered the virtual dementia tour. Participants stumbled around inside a hotel room, struggling to complete simple tasks.
Their vision was impaired by the glasses. White noise, garbled conversations, and static were pumped in through their headphones.
"When I got in there, from the minute it started, I was completely confused and disoriented," said Linda Dobbratz, the Activity Director at Nu-Roc Community Healthcare, a nursing home in Laona.
Three certified nursing assistants from AGI Healthcare, a Crandon nursing home, also experienced the simulation.
Melissa Denton, Shania Simonis, and Josie Bocek found the exercise difficult.
"You can't see anything when you're in that room, at all," Simonis said.
Bocek struggled to concentrate on tasks such as folding clothes, pouring a glass of water, and setting a table while odd noises were coming through her headphones.
"The worst part, I think for me, was the sounds, because it just sounds like somebody rambling," she said.
"There's sirens, which scared the bejesus out of me," Simonis said.
Loud sirens were also periodically routed through participants' headphones.
"There are a lot more sounds that people with memory loss hear than what we typically hear," Gibson said. "People that you know and love have been going through this every day for years and years and years."
For caregivers and loved ones of those with dementia, the simulation was a valuable learning experience.
"Sometimes dealing with the residents with dementia, you get very frustrated. The reason you're frustrated is because they're frustrated," Bocek said.
"I could see myself doing the things that I see our residents doing, and totally understanding why they're doing that," agreed Dobbratz.
About 120,000 people in Wisconsin live with some form of dementia.