Gary Tetz

It seemed like a low-tech gimmick, but I signed up anyway to take the Virtual Dementia Tour. I had seen it promoted at the opening session of the American Health Care Association convention this week in Phoenix and I felt it would at least help me briefly escape the continual, non-existent clamor of my fans.

The innovative program was created by Second Wind Dreams founder P.K. Beville to help clueless people like me spend a little time inside a world that’s almost impossible to understand without actually being there. It’s received national media exposure, and looked to be a popular stop for convention attendees.


When my appointment time came I sat down with five others to be instructed and outfitted in the patented gear. Malformed plastic shoe inserts to provide foot discomfort. Special glasses to simulate macular degeneration and other visual challenges. Headphones to pump in a cacophony of sounds, and multiple layers of gloves to impair motor skills. 

Then the real fun began. And by fun, I mean a troubling experience I don’t wish to soon repeat. I was led by the hand into a darkened room and asked to complete a simple list of tasks. Which would have been fine if I could have heard the instructions, or been able to see what I was doing, or had fully functional fingers, or wasn’t startled into forgetfulness every few seconds by a deafening series of random noises.

I’m not sure exactly how long I was in that horrible place, but the time was deeply disturbing. I felt alone, embarrassed, even a bit panicky. The sense of isolation was oppressive, and as the world closed in around me, I finally just stood in a corner literally talking to myself. By then, the tour was anything but a gimmick.

For such a simple concept, the impact of this adventure was seriously profound, and though I hate to recommend something so unpleasant, I wholeheartedly do.  

For just a few fleeting but unforgettable minutes, I experienced what must be barely a shadow of the fear, pain and confusion your dementia patients go through every moment of every day.   

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, who cobbles these pieces together from his secret lair somewhere near the scenic, wine-soaked hamlet of Walla Walla, WA. Since his debut with at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.