What’s it like to live as an older adult with mid-stage dementia? Try walking with dry corn kernels in your shoes, seeing through goggles that distort vision and wearing earphones that blast a cacophony.

This simulation is part of the Virtual Dementia Tour, a program designed to help caregivers better understand the disease and other age-related conditions. Creator P.K. Beville, who also is founder of Second Wind Dreams, which fulfills the wishes of older adults, believes that “walking in the shoes” of those with dementia leads to better caregiving.

“The point is that in order to provide good care, we need to be sensitized to what it might feel like to have dementia,” says Beville (shown above), a long-time geriatric psychologist.

As part of the exercise, participants, dressed in accoutrements that impair their senses, are asked to complete seemingly simple tasks, such as taking a white sweater out of the closet. Interestingly, behaviors exhibited by participants are the same as those with dementia, Beville said. For example, they can focus on only one task.
“After a while, they’ll get agitated about it and many will throw a white sheet over their shoulder and call it a white sweater,” she says.

People who have done the exercise have expressed emotions ranging from disbelief at what they have experienced to guilt about the way they have treated residents, Beville says.