Things like fold towels, put on a sweater, drink half a cup of water, clear the table, find a necktie. No big deal, right? But now add spiked inserts in your shoes, blurry goggles, clumsy gloves and headphones putting staticky radio and random noise into year ears. With all that going on, you might just put that cardigan on upside down. Nothing can re-create the horror that is Alzheimer's, which now affects 5.6 million Americans. But at Villa Ventura, a senior-living community in Kansas City, Mo., employees are at least getting a sense of what victims of the disease can feel. A pretty good sense, too, apparently - because the experience can plop a perfectly stable person onto the edge of a bed, lost, mind racing and fretful about what to do next.
"I couldn't remember anything I was supposed to do," Robert Minton, a van driver at the center, said after his turn at Virtual Dementia Tour, a hands-on trip into the dark world of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. "I didn't like it," he added. "Eight minutes? Seemed like 30. I wanted it to end. I had to get out of there." The system, developed by a geriatric specialist, is gaining popularity around the country. Villa Ventura's plan is to open it up to family members of its dementia patients. "Our employees see the pacing and frustration and exasperation every day," said Sarah Miller, the center's assistant assisted living director who helped lead a recent session. "If this helps them understand it a little better, then it's a good thing." First off, Minton and others in his group "garbed" up. Plastic inserts with little sharp spikes into his shoes to create the "needles and pins" and neuropathy that affect many seniors. Rubber gloves with cloth gloves over them for the arthritis effect. Goggles to give everything a yellow tint, and a dot in the middle to simulate macular degeneration. Finally, headphones with loud clutter - static-edged radio, car horns, door slams. A worker then led Minton into a small apartment with ambient light only.
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