Saturday April 20th, 2024 1:38AM

A consuming experience: Local nonprofit gives participants chance to simulate dementia

By Christian Ashliman Anchor/Reporter

Gainesville-based Beyond Dementia Coalition gave members of local law enforcement the chance to experience a virtual dementia tour Friday in an effort to spread awareness of the disease.

Officer Curtis Lambert with the Gainesville Police Department has on a pair of sunglasses that are muggy and smeared with black tape stuck to the insides. One small hole is cut in the center of the tape, giving him a small window through which to see the task at hand. Suddenly a siren is blaring in his headset, rising to ear-splitting levels before the sound of passing cars and crowds of people resume.

He fumbles with the zipper on an oversized jacket, as the bulky gloves he’s wearing tie his fingers together. He shuffles across the room to another task, this time putting batteries into a flashlight. He has insoles in his shoes that spike into his feet, making walking uncomfortable. One of the guides grabs his arm, another siren blares and he’s told to complete something else. But he can’t hear what it is. He walks to the other side of the room where a paper is stuck on the wall detailing task instructions. The only problem is the words are jumbled and out of order.

Five minutes later he is pulled out of the room, the garb comes off and it is time to debrief.

This is all part of the process at the Virtual Dementia Tour put on by the Beyond Dementia Coalition, a nonprofit organization based out of Gainesville. Their goal is to share what it is like to have the consuming disease. They accomplish this both through education and awareness, as well as hands-on simulation.

“It would be ideal if everybody was trained in being able to associate with people with dementia, take the awkwardness out of it,” CEO Bill Wittel said. “We are providing programs, this is our flagship program with the virtual dementia tour. We have other programs that are being built around that.”

Participants start by filling out a release form and answering several survey questions. They are then guided into a room where they are briefed on what will happen: they will be given five tasks to complete and no questions will be answered during the simulation. They will have five minutes to do the tasks as an observer checks boxes off a list.

Then the finger-limiting gloves and sunglasses go on, spiked insoles are jammed into their shoes and a world of noises gets pumped through a set of headphones. Everyday focus is strained and simple tasks become a challenge.

Some of the assignments given to participants included counting out a set amount of change, setting a clock to a specific time and setting the table for a meal.

“You have little bits and pieces, like I know I heard ‘17 cents,’ I know I heard ‘change the clock, put batteries in and turn the flashlight on,’” Lambert said. “But halfway through it, you're going through like ‘he said something about 17 cents, there's a bunch of pennies and stuff everywhere.’ So you really don't know what it is … and then so it's confusing, you're kind of stressed about it, you can't move your hands. So you don't know if you're getting the right amount out. And then you go to ask questions,  and they don't answer questions for you.”

Officer Lambert is the Mental Health Officer for his designated shift, meaning he responds to many of the calls that involve reports of a “mental health condition.” Undergoing a hands-on demonstration about dementia allows responders to recognize the signs and symptoms more easily, while also helping them to exhibit patience in the face of challenging situations, Lambert said after participating in the simulation.

After a participant is finished with the simulation, they are taken into a separate room where the garb is removed and they are debriefed on their experience.

At Friday’s showcase, Beyond Dementia Coalition Executive Director Cloud Conrad was the one who inquired to participants how their experience was and reviewed a post-simulation survey with them. One officer noted how much of a consuming experience it was, as nearly every sense was impeded in some way.

Conrad’s hope is the simulation can shed some light on an otherwise little-known topic by spreading awareness and understanding for those interested.

Beyond Dementia Coalition currently has two more dates available for the general public to experience the virtual dementia tour. The first event will take place on August 22 and the second is slated for October 18. The tour typically takes a total of 30 minutes and will be held at the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids (INK) Museum in Gainesville. 

Those interested can register for a spot online.

  • Associated Categories: Homepage, Local/State News
  • Associated Tags: Gainesville Police Department, nonprofit, Dementia, beyond dementia coalition, virtual dementia tour
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