‘Virtual reality’ dementia experience for healthy adults

15 March 2019

The ways in which changes to a person’s five basic senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch – impact upon their dementia is something that our live-in carers see on a daily basis. Many people we support are living with some degree of sight and hearing loss, smells may have become distorted, taste impaired and a person’s reaction – or lack of reaction – to touch can be very different to how it was before their dementia.

These changes can affect every area of the person’s life. If the person’s dementia means they no longer wish to wear their glasses or hearing aids, the person’s experience of what they see and hear can become blurred or muffled, and that loss of clarity can exacerbate symptoms such as paranoia or hallucinations. Problems with spatial awareness and sensitivity to noise can also be very prominent for people with dementia.

A distorted experience of smells can mean a simple piece of slightly too-well-done toast can lead a person to believe that their house is on fire, as well as affecting their reaction to how previously favourite foods now smell, and of course mealtimes are hugely affected by changes in a person’s sense of taste too. Taste buds often become less effective for a person with dementia, meaning that they may want stronger tasting food just so that their taste buds receive the stimulation that they remember from their earlier life. Where touch is concerned, a person may have lost sensitivity or become hypersensitive to all kinds of touch, from human touch to distinguishing between hot and cold.

Supporting a person experiencing these sensory changes during their life with dementia means really getting to know their preferences, gaining their trust and being constantly mindful of how things can change with their senses as their dementia progresses. To this end, we were delighted to welcome the Virtual Dementia Tour to our annual conference for regional partners. We wanted the people who lead our care services across the UK to have first-hand experience of this award-winning and unique training opportunity that transports participants into a world of sensory disturbance.

The Virtual Dementia Tour was invented 20 years ago in America. It is medically and scientifically proven to be the closest experience of what dementia might be like that a person with a healthy brain can participate in. One of the most notable features of the Virtual Dementia Tour is the way in which it distorts participant’s senses by changing their vision through glasses, their hearing through headphones, and their  sense of touch in their hands and feet through gloves and spikey insoles. The combination of these effects is like an assault on your senses, leaving participants confused, intimidated, scared and vulnerable.

Gary Derbyshire, one of our franchisees, said afterwards: “I thought it gave a frightening insight into the disorientation, discomfort and frustration faced by someone living with dementia whilst trying to perform simple everyday tasks.” Esther Boughton, National Franchise Acquisition Manager, echoed Gary’s thoughts by saying: “It was an incredibly powerful experience. The feeling of disorientation was overwhelming, and I was surprised how quickly it made me withdraw into myself and feel detached from those around me.”

Everyone who experienced the Virtual Dementia Tour agreed that it had profoundly affected their perceptions of what living with dementia is like, and as a result enabled them to better understand the people we support who are living with dementia. Nothing sums this up better than these words from Vanessa Thomas, Internal Sales Consultant: “Even though I thought I knew what dementia was like, I really didn’t. I wish I’d done this sooner.”

Our thanks go to the Virtual Dementia Tour for this learning opportunity, and to all of our franchisees who attended our conference for embracing this educational experience and committing to take what they’ve learnt back to their services.

Looking for Live-in care? Get in touch with our friendly team on 0800 086 8686 or email care@promedica24.co.uk to find out more about how we can support your family.

Further reading related to sensory loss and dementia:

Life Changes Trust – Dementia and Sensory Challenges

Alzheimer’s Society – Communicating with someone with sensory impairment

SCIE – Dementia and Sensory Loss


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