An ‘eye-opening’ experience

MARSHALL -?You may think you know what it’s like to be old by observing someone, but until you can walk a mile in their shoes, you don’t really know.

Staff from local caregiving facilities conducted a “Virtual Dementia” tour Tuesday at the Adult Community Center in Marshall. Participants got a 10-minute taste of what it feels like to have neuropathy, arthritis, hearing and visual impairment and then try to complete a series of tasks.

Jackie Esping and Kim Torkelson from adult day services at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center, placed popcorn kernels in participants’ shoes and inside plastic gloves so they could get an idea of the neuropathy or “pins and needles” feeling that old people might have. They had people don special goggles that limited vision, and they taped up participants’ gloved hands to simulate arthritis. Lastly, they put headphones on the participants in which they could hear conversations but couldn’t make out the words distinctly.

Then the virtual dementia tourists were taken in groups of two to a specially-prepared room which was darkened, had a television on and had three tables set up. One table had a bunch of towels and cloths on it, one had dishes and one had writing materials on it. A nearby counter had paper cups and a pitcher filled with water.

The participant is given a series of tasks to do such as find the white sweater and put it on, set a table for four, write a letter to a family member and pour a cup of water and drink it.

The tasks are difficult to do with taped fingers and impaired vision, and the participant may not remember everything he or she was told at the beginning of the exercise.

Don Klein of Marshall took the dementia tour.

“It was eye-opening,” he said. “It made me realize how it actually is.”

Klein said he was able to complete a few tasks, but “not much. I couldn’t see.”

Breaking down the tasks into smaller steps, such as you should do for a small child, would be less confusing, said Jaen Weilage, director of marketing for Heritage Pointe, a senior living facility that will open up in Marshall later in the summer.

“Also establishing a routine to the person’s day can be successful,” Weilage said. “So a person knows what to expect.”

Weilage recommended books for caregivers such as “Dad’s Last Hunt” by Mike D. Larson and Sharon L. Larson, “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova and one of her favorites, “Creating Moments of Joy” by Jolene Brackey.

To help stave off the onset of dementia, Weilage said there are things people can do such as working puzzles and engaging in new experiences – “instead of sitting in front of the TV all day. We need to take care of our minds too, as well as the body.”