I wanted to take part in the Virtual Dementia Tour because I’ve met a lot of people who are living with Dementia through attending Singing for the Brain sessions, and I thought it would help me understand the condition better and understand what challenges those people are facing on a daily basis.
It was an amazing experience and I’m really glad I did it.
When I arrived, the first thing I was asked to do was put some pads in my shoes which had plastic spikes on that made it difficult to walk. I put on plastic gloves and then put mittens over the top of them which really made it difficult to do anything with my hands. I put glasses on which restricted my sight and lastly headphones so I couldn’t hear very well.
I was then accompanied by the tour leader into a dark room with strobe lighting, which made me even more disorientated. I found out at the end that I’d been asked to go into the room a couple of times before I eventually did and had been given several instructions, I just hadn’t heard anyone asking me.
I really did feel vulnerable because I couldn’t do what I was being asked to do.
I couldn’t move fast because the pads in my shoes made walking uncomfortable. At one point I was asked to pour a cup of water and as I was trying to do it, the tour leader snatched the cup away from me.
At first I thought it was because I was taking such a long time, but actually it’s because people living with dementia sometimes become fascinated with objects. To you they might not have any significance, but to that person they do. So snatching an object away because you don’t understand the significance of it to that person, at that moment can be very distressing for them. I certainly found it frustrating.
Next I was asked to put on a shirt and button it up. I had to have about five or six goes and I just could not do the buttons up. It sounds silly but I felt so vulnerable because I had no control over my body – I was trying to do the buttons up but I just couldn’t get my hands to work because I was wearing two sets of gloves, and I was disorientated anyway because I couldn’t see or hear clearly and through the headphones sudden loud noise would distract and frighten me.
I was in the room for about five minutes trying to do tasks like that which are normally straightforward for me, and even in that short amount of time I was able to pick up some really valuable points by being shown how life can be for someone living with dementia.
Vulnerable, frustrated, confused and disorientated I actually simply felt useless. Having been in that situation and having that experience also highlighted how I can make changes to my behaviour when interacting with people with dementia.
The important piece of advice I took away from the experience is that someone living with dementia can’t change how they are, but I can change my behaviour and the things around that person to try to make things easier for them. It’s their environment and me and you that need to change.
If you can make just small changes like approaching people from the front, not the side, introducing yourself by name every time you meet, it could make a big difference. When I had my headphones on and I couldn’t hear anything, the course leader would touch me gently on the arm to get my attention, which is another really useful piece of advice.
I took part in the experience with a number of other people, and we all observed everyone else when they were completing those tasks. It was really interesting to see how everyone reacted – some people just froze completely. De-briefing at the end and hearing everyone’s different perspectives was also an eye-opener!
There’s a lot I will take away from the experience; it really was incredible. I didn’t feel in control at all, and I felt like I couldn’t communicate what I was thinking – for a police officer who is used to being in control and using communication to deal with various situations, it was very unsettling and uncomfortable. This would be even worse if those around me simply did not understand it. Although this was just a very small glimpse of what those people living with dementia experience I would recommend it to everyone.
It really has made me think about how I interact with people, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to take part.
Sergeant Phil Boyd recently took part in the Virtual Dementia Tour, helping him walk in the shoes of someone with Dementia. Here he recounts his experience and the things he learned during the experience…