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Their vision was tunneled and darkened, voices and sounds were distorted, and their dexterity inhibited. Late last month, caregivers and family members of people with Parkinson’s disease and dementia had the humbling opportunity to briefly experience the everyday life of people with advanced cognitive decline. The experience was brought to Monarch Landing senior living community through a program called the Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT) which was created by Second Wind Dreams. A grant from the Parkinson’s Disease Association Midwest Chapter sponsored the program’s presence at Monarch Landing.

Over the course of two days, almost 60 people participated in the VDT, donning special eyeglasses, gloves, shoes, and headphones, and guided by a certified trainer. They were given eight minutes to complete five tasks in a specially designated area, without the ability to ask any questions.

“We were proud to be able to offer this program, which facilitates the experience of walking in the shoes of someone with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. It enables caregivers and family members, who are often one and the same, to experience for themselves, the physical, mental, and emotional challenges that individuals with Parkinson’s disease and dementia face. They can then use the experience to provide better, person-centered care,” said Sara Friel, director of resident experience at Monarch Landing. “Our staff in memory support at The Springs Health and Rehabilitation Center at Monarch Landing are highly trained. But there’s always more to be learned. This provided a very different and humbling perspective that we previously hadn’t had, of living with Parkinson’s disease and dementia.”

The participants had the opportunity after their VDT experience, to share their thoughts and impressions. They reported confusion, distraction, and frustration. “Without exception, people said that despite their well-intended and certainly kind efforts guiding their care for people with Parkinson’s disease and dementia, they learned a lot that they will, going forward, do differently,” said Friel. “This included different ways of approaching and engaging with their loved ones. This will increase understanding and empathy.”