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Lake Zurich first responders participate in dementia sensitivity training

LAKE ZURICH – Perhaps you have a loved one or friend who suffers from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior. But do you really know what it’s like for them and their day-to-day struggle to do even the simplest tasks?

Silverado Lake Zurich Memory Care Community recently hosted the Virtual Dementia Tour, a training program created by geriatric specialist P.K. Beville, founder of the nonprofit organization Second Wind Dreams.

The interactive program allowed Lake Zurich firefighter/paramedics, patient families and staff to experience some of the limitations of dementia, so they could gain a better understanding of this debilitating condition. 

Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. This year, an estimated 5.3 million Americans of all ages are living with the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Virtual dementia training is a really powerful tool in getting people to walk in the shoes of someone with dementia,” said Fiona Forde Elkes, community ambassador for Silverado’s Highland Park facility.

Altered state

Before entering an unoccupied resident bedroom to attempt challenges like folding laundry, counting change and finding the correct medication in a pill box, the physical and sensory abilities of participants were altered with props such as goggles to distort vision, headphones to mimic the static noise of a hearing aid, and shoe inserts and gloves to limit movement.

In addition to giving families and caregivers a better understanding of what dementia patients experience, the Virtual Dementia Tour can help firefighters, paramedics and police officers more effectively serve those with dementia.

“It makes you more aware, more understanding, more patient, which is really what they need,” said Spencer Cornell, a Lake Zurich firefighter/paramedic.

Silverado facilities throughout the country host the Virtual Dementia Tour regularly. 

The reaction from first responders has been overwhelming, said Jill Polanski, director of resident and services at Silverado Lake Zurich Memory Care Community.

“They didn’t realize on top of the memory impairment, some of the [patients'] physical aspects," Polanski said. "They’ve said it will absolutely change the way they work with people when they go into a home and try to get information.”

Upon completing the challenge, Cornell said it was distracting not being able to hear clearly, “but the visual was the hardest part, not being able to really see anything you’re doing.”

The shoe inserts, which mimicked neuropathy, “make it so you really don’t want to be on your feet; it changes the way you walk, your center of balance,” Cornell added.

The Virtual Dementia Tour is a humbling experience, Polanski said.

“Most of our residents have neuropathy, macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, arthritis, and on top of that they’re disoriented and confused," Polanski said. "We’re trained to speak slowly, make sure we’re using short, declarative sentences, look at the person, but you don’t realize that even if you do all of those things, they still may not be able to hear, see or understand what you’re saying.”

Polanski said she became so frustrated trying to complete the challenges of the simulation, she gave up.

“Not seeing is the thing that got to me the most. I kept trying to cheat and take the glasses off, but our residents can’t take off their macular degeneration or glaucoma. That was really eye-opening for me,” she said.

For those interested, Silverado Highland Park Memory Care Community will host the Virtual Dementia Tour on Sept. 25. All are welcome. Call 224-765-0094 for more information.

Visit www.silveradocare.com to learn more about Silverado.

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