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Nursing home promotes awareness through dementia simulator


Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Derrick Barr stumbles through a room, trying to sort silverware and fold laundry, but his hands don’t seem to be doing what he wants.

Sundale Nursing Home employee Derrick Barr tries to write his name while being limited by the dementia simulator Thursday afternoon at the Sundale Nursing Home.
(Times West Virginian photo by Kaitlyn Neff)

He walks to the other end of the room, but his feet feel heavy and his ears are ringing.

He is experiencing the effects of dementia, but he is nowhere near the age most people are diagnosed.

Barr is an employee at the Sundale Nursing Home, where the entire staff went through a dementia simulation to understand more of the disease’s effects.

“November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and we wanted to bring awareness to the community and to caregivers the challenges that patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia face on a daily basis,” Charlotte Green, a nurse for Right at Home Care and Assistance, which administered the simulation, said.

“We’re trying to expose them to the challenges that these people face on a daily basis.”

Though the staff at the home is exposed to this kind of disease daily, they have never lived it. The simulation provided a walk in dementia patients’ shoes by literally placing special soles in the test subjects’ shoes, while also cutting off some other senses.

Test subjects were equipped with the special soles with rubber spikes to throw off balance, glasses which blocked peripheral vision, large gloves with linked fingers and headphones that played a steady stream of background noise.

The subject then had to listen to a nurse and perform some tasks like setting a clock, choosing change and signing a piece of paper.

With the set handicaps, most had a difficult time.

“When you go through it, you get a better understanding of that resident that we’re caring for, and you might have a family member that might have some sort of dementia that can’t see properly or something,” Sherry Newcome, a dementia-care specialist at Sundale Nursing Home, said.

One of the maintenance workers at the home, Kevin Johnson, went through the test, saying each task was difficult and calling the whole experience “interesting.”

He said he saw his grandmother go through this disease, so he has seen it from the outside as well.

Most of the staff at the home has seen some form of the disease, and have seen people in their care express confusion or difficulty in understanding or performing tasks.

“It’s an hard experience; we’re trying to get people to be more sympathetic to the things these people go through every day,” Debbie Croston, a marketing representative from Right at Home, said about the simulator.

Newcome also explained the differences between dementia and normal aging, saying that dementia is a condition that can be reversed, while Alzheimer’s is an extreme dementia condition which cannot.

Conditions that fall under dementia besides Alzheimer’s include Parkinson’s and Lewy Body syndrome, and Newcome also explained that there are seven stages of Alzheimer’s of the brain deteriorating.

Most often, dementia reveals itself in a person as they reach ages past 60 or 70, so many end up in the care of homes like Sundale.

“It’s really eye-opening, and I think sometimes we think we understand what they are going through, but we really don’t,” Green said.

Email Eddie Trizzino at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eddietimeswv.

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