Dementia training packs emotional punch


The Dementia Journey simulation gives caregivers an idea of what patients are struggling with every day. Courtesy Holland Home

As the number of elderly patients with dementia increased in recent years, Lynn Bolt saw a need to address their care.

A nurse educator at Holland Home, Bolt was looking for a way to help her staff better understand and the struggle of dementia patients. So she took a trip to the dollar store.

“We didn’t have a budget to train a bunch of people and get a bunch of equipment,” she said. “So we decided we would create what we could.”

Armed with modified gardening gloves, shoe inserts, headsets and goggles, Bolt came up with Dementia Journey, a simulation that reproduces the feelings and disorientation associated with dementia.

Participants put on the equipment and enter the Dementia Journey room, where they are asked to complete five simple tasks, such as filling a glass of water or putting on a sweater. Amber filters in the goggles distort vision, while the headphones play a constant recording of ambient noise. Padded gloves with some fingers sewn together recreate issues stemming from joint pain and arthritis, and shoe inserts made from the spiked rubber bottom of car floor mats simulate neuropathy in the feet.

Since November, about 315 caregivers and 20 corporate staff have gone through the Dementia Journey — and the results have been emotional.

Bolt said most participants were able to complete only two or three of the tasks they were given, while some just sat and wept. She said each person who underwent the simulation came out with new perspective on what patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia experience.

“The most important part of this journey is to create empathy for what these people are going through — which is going from a place of positive human interactions to a place where they’re lost and they can’t come back,” Bolt said. “So the question is, how do we enter their world in a godly way to make them feel as important as they truly are?”

Bolt told of one Dementia Journey participant who during the post-simulation interview said he could feel the pain of dementia patients.

“That was pretty poignant,” Bolt said. “And it’s resulted in caregivers — instead of saying things like ‘I’m going to help feed you’ — asking ‘Let’s have dinner together.’ We have to get away from this medical model of treatment into a living model for (the patients).”

Thanks to a recent $300,000 grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Holland Home’s Dementia Journey program will expand to include online training and other educational tools. The full cost to fund the program’s three-year initiative is $597,500, with the remaining cost being covered by Holland Home and local funders.

The assisted living community anticipates training 800 current employees and 200 caregivers in 2016, and an additional 500 new employees and 100 caregivers annually the next two years.

Holland Home has Dementia Journey rooms at its Fulton and Raybrook facilities, and Bolt anticipates the program’s success means more rooms are on the horizon.

“It’s amazing what a difference the program has made already,” Bolt said. “When I went through it myself, it just became a passion of mine — that we have got to get this for our caregivers. We have a lot of loving staff at Holland Home, but this can give them more of an edge in how we treat dementia with compassion and empathy.”

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