Kansas City senior center offers unusual dementia program

Saturday, July 14, 2012 | 3:33 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Employees of a senior living community in south Kansas City who work with dementia patients are getting some personal insight into what those people endure every day, thanks to a new program that puts them through a Virtual Dementia Tour.

The program, developed by a geriatric specialist, requires employees to perform simple tasks such as folding towels, putting on a sweater and drinking a half a cup of water within a specific amount of time. But they perform the tasks using spiked inserts in their shoes, blurry goggles, clumsy gloves and headphones that play loud, random noise, The Kansas City Star reported.

Villa Ventura employees who went through the program recently said it was frustrating and difficult, and many of them didn't make it through the eight-minute trial.

"I couldn't remember anything I was supposed to do," Robert Minton, a van driver at the center, said after recently going through the Virtual Dementia Tour. "I didn't like it. Eight minutes? Seemed like 30. I wanted it to end. I had to get out of there."

Villa Ventura thinks it is the first senior community in the Kansas City area to use the system. It plans to eventually offer it to family members of its dementia patients.

"Our employees see the pacing and frustration and exasperation every day," said Sarah Miller, the center's assisted living director who helped lead Tuesday's session. "If this helps them understand it a little better, then it's a good thing."

During the program, the employees wear plastic inserts with little sharp spikes into their shoes to create the "needles and pins" and neuropathy that many seniors experience. Rubber gloves with cloth gloves over them mimic arthritis, goggles give everything a yellow tint, and a dot in the middle simulates macular degeneration.

They also wear headphones playing static-filled radio, car horns and door slams.

Minton gave up after forgetting what he was supposed to do and being unable to read the instructions, which had missing words and some letters bigger than others. Many others on the tour also quit early.

They included Diamond Acklin, a medication technician.

"Too many things going on. I couldn't think straight," she said.

The tour was developed by P.K. Beville, a geriatric specialist who founded Second Wind Dreams, a nonprofit group that helps the elderly.

"You can look at these people every day," said Jeremy Constance, Villa Ventura's food and beverage director, "but you can't feel what they are feeling until you walk in their shoes."

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