Lisa Lessin was given several tasks to complete in a room at the senior center in Emmitsburg.
With headphones playing loud noises, glasses meant to restrict her peripheral vision, and gloves, Lessin found that she could hear only one of the tasks she was given. Then she didn’t know what to do.
“The first thing I heard when I put on the headphones was a train and then voices,” Lessin said.
Lessin, program manager of mobile community health care program with the county’s Division of Fire and Rescue Services, and Joe Chlebowski, a paramedic with fire and rescue, participated in Dementia Live, a simulation event put on by the Senior Services Division.
Lessin and Chlebowski were each given headphones, gloves and glasses before they were given a list of tasks to do once they got into the room. Chlebowski, for example, was tasked with taking a pill, find a black shirt and button two buttons, feed the dog, sort cards on a table, and count out some money.
Both Lessin and Chlebowski had a slight advantage: They are able to read lips.
“Otherwise, you could have told me to build a space shuttle,” he said.
But they were still able complete only a couple of tasks. Chlebowski took the pill, and Lessin buttoned a shirt. Once they were done those tasks, they then began to walk around the room and rummage.
Rummaging is something done by people with dementia, said Mary Collins, caregiver program coordinator. People respond the way they have all their lives. So the two medical personnel rummaged because they needed to be doing something.
The goal with the simulation was to increase awareness of what it is like to have dementia. It is just a simulation, so it won’t be exactly like a person’s experience, Collins said.
It can be overwhelming. The headphones made it nearly impossible to hear anything besides the noises coming through the speakers. The lack of peripheral vision made it so eyesight was limited. The gloves made it so that tactile sensations were dulled.
Lessin and Chlebowski said they walked away with more understanding after going through the simulation. For Chlebowski and Lessin, the auditory stimuli was the worst part of the simulation, and Collins and Mindy Lohman-Hinz, caregiver program coordinator, pointed out the overwhelming noise can explain some of the behaviors seen by those with dementia.
They might startle if approached from behind because they couldn’t hear a person approach. Or they might ask for repeated instructions because they can’t hear well.
“I was beginning to get frustrated with all the auditory overload, and I work in that environment,” Chlebowski said.
Other behaviors Collins and Lohman-Hinz said they noticed people do in the simulation that people with dementia also do were shadowing, exaggerated startle reflex, wandering and talking to themselves.
“There are some things we see with dementia but also in the room,” she said.
This is the first year that the Senior Services Division has put on the program. Collins and Lohman-Hinz have also gone through the program, as well as other staff members.
Lessin and Chlebowski said that they were glad to go through the program.
“I think that this is practical, and it is wonderful,” Chlebowski said.