What is Dementia like?
Dementia is becoming a household name. It is a growing problem and the reality is that it will only get worse. Dementia is described as “a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language”. But what does that mean? What does that feel like?
Recently Year 11 and selected teachers had the opportunity to partake in the “Dementia Experience”. Led and created by Four Seasons Health Care, it offers a thought provoking and valuable insight into the meaning of dementia. We were the first group of teenagers to experience this in the country.
The experience simulates the effect of dementia on everyday living. The “experience” consists of a 15-minute period in which the participants were given 3 specific tasks, such as “find two black socks and pair them” or “put on a shirt and button it up”; the sorts of mundane abilities which are taken wholly for granted. Each volunteer was allotted; a thick pair of gardening gloves, to obscure their sense of touch, a pair of Vaseline and sticker coated goggles (to impair their sight), and finally a headset playing loud background noise, to act as a cognitive distracter. After the equipment was set up the group was set loose to complete their tasks on a table which very much resembled a jumble sale.
When asked to carry out these tasks many people exclaimed their frustration at their inability to complete things they considered to be basic and easy. Having completed the experience whilst on work experience in September, I can speak from first-hand experience about how challenging, vexing and even sometimes upsetting the experience is. However, it is worth it as it gives you access into the thought processes and behaviour of someone with dementia.
Following the end of the 15-minute experience, a collective discussion and reflection was carried out. Everyone shared their thoughts and emotions during and after the experience, here it became apparent that everyone had felt a slightly different version and mix of similar emotions. This is what makes the simulation such a profound and powerful one as dementia affects every person differently. No two people felt identically, no two people acted identically. During those 15 minutes the range of behaviour witnessed was immense, there were those who become quiet, while others became very vocal, those who became jittery, and those who became possessive over “their sock”.
I decided to bring the “Dementia Experience” to Sancton Wood as I believe that it teaches a very special lesson which the school curriculum would otherwise not touch upon. It is estimated that one in three will develop dementia during their lifetime, which makes it a disease which affects everyone; everyone knows someone who lives with dementia. Therefore I consider the experience’s ability to shed some light on why people living with dementia act as they do to be a very worthwhile and mind opening experience.
Walk in my Shoes,
Just for a day,
Feel how I feel,
It’s the easiest way,
The jigsaw is there,
The pieces are too,
They don’t seem to fit
It’s a bit of a do,
Hear what I hear,
And see what I see,
I’m not sure where I am,
But I know I’m me,
Step into my shoes,
The experience may be difficult,
And at times a bit rough
But you can say when you’ve had enough
But this is my life, my everyday world
Some days nice and calm,
And other days a swirl,
The one thing to remember when the experience is done,
Help me with my memories,
And the days that I have none.
A poem written by a care worker about the Dementia Experience