Feb 22, 2012

Things I learned from the Virtual Dementia Tour Certification Training

You just never know, until you’ve walked a mile in another persons shoes. Once you have done that -- then you have the information to make your own changes.

By Carole Larkin 
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I am now a CERTIFIED TRAINER of P.K. Beville’s thought changing, life changing Virtual Dementia Tour experience. 

This is the most revolutionary teaching tool I have ever seen for caregiving for a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. 

Once I went through the tour a few times and had conducted the wrap up/teaching session at the end of it another few times, I knew that I had to carry this tool to all caregivers I could reach. So, I contacted P.K. and asked if I could join her next class.  

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I went to Atlanta, Georgia and participated in her intensive trainings for facilitators and certified trainers. Now I can train not only family caregivers and professional caregivers from home health and home care companies, all forms of senior residences such as assisted livings, memory care communities and nursing homes, but also many other professionals such as emergency medical technicians, firemen, policemen, doctors, nurses, social workers, and the like. 

Even better, now I can train them to be trainers themselves, so this knowledge can spread even further. I feel fortunate to be able to be a part of this magic.

One of the biggest insights I gained from the training is that people with dementia (especially in middle stages) are not engaged in illogical “inappropriate behaviors” when they do things like wander or pace aimlessly, shadow their caregivers to distraction, mutter to themselves, ask the same question endlessly, or any one of a number of other actions that drive their caregivers to distraction. What they are doing is engaging in “coping” mechanisms to deal with their lack of knowledge or direction in the best way they can at that moment.

The Virtual Dementia Tour participants are garbed up in a way that gives them the experience of having dementia. Once garbed up, they are asked to do several simple tasks. Few are able to accomplish even half the tasks requested of them in the time allotted (plenty of time under ordinary circumstances). Their senses are altered; their brain is set to a confused state by design. They are not able to process or make sense of information given to them to accomplish the tasks they are given to do. Then they are led to the area in which the tasks are to be completed.

What happens then? 

Perfectly healthy people who five minutes before behaved “appropriately” start doing what we call “inappropriate behaviors”, automatically, all on their own! 

They may wander around aimlessly, knowing that they are supposed to be doing something, but because they couldn’t hear or couldn’t remember what tasks they were told to do, they wandered around looking for something to do, anything to do, whether it was the task assigned to them or not. 

Others may stand frozen in the room, not knowing what to do and afraid to do anything because it might be the “wrong” thing to do. Others may see someone else in the room and start following them around to do whatever the other person is doing, figuring that the other person knows what they are doing, so it must be the best way to get things done themselves. 

Remember, just five minutes ago these were fully functioning human beings, just like you and me!

After the experience, when the participants were ungarbed, they said that what they did was their way of “coping” with the situation of being assigned a task to do and being “confused” or not knowing what to do to accomplish the task. 

They described their feelings on being in this state using words like angry, sad, frustrated, defeated, and even lonely. It dawned on me that these people were doing the best they knew how to do, whether their “coping” mechanisms worked or not, and whether their “coping” mechanisms were appropriate to getting their tasks done or not. They really were doing everything they knew how to do to solve their problem.

Of course, the parallels to real persons with dementia were instantly obvious. Those persons are “coping”, successfully or unsuccessfully with the disease, not using inappropriate behaviors. We, the “unimpaired” people must understand this to help them get through their day, so that anger and tears can turn to smiles and laughter.  Once we understand this, we can turn our frustration and anger into compassion and encouragement for those with the diseases.

 You just never know, until you’ve walked a mile in another man’s shoes. Once you have done that -- then you have the information to make your own changes.

Carole Larkin MA,CMC,CAEd,QDCS,EICS,
is a Geriatric Care Manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She also trains caregivers in home care companies, assisted livings, memory care communities, and nursing homes in dementia specific techniques for best care of dementia sufferers. ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.
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Original content Carole Larkin, the Alzheimer's Reading Room