For adults living with dementia something as simple as folding towels or setting a table can become an overwhelming and confusing task.
Recently, staff and volunteers from the John Howard Society experienced this firsthand when they participated in the Niagara College Dementia Experience (NCDE) – a simulated learning experience that helps participants better understand the effects that ageing with dementia has on an individual.
Led by NC Simulation Lab Technician Frances Haver, the NC Dementia Experience began by altering participants physical and sensory abilities through specialized equipment including glasses that mimicked macular degeneration, gloves to simulate the loss of fine motor skills, shoe inserts to illustrate corns, bunions, arthritis and neuropathy in feet and headphones to simulate hearing loss.
Participants were then asked to complete five simple tasks.
Confusion, agitation, and unease set in for each individual as they entered the room and tried to identify and complete the required tasks. Some tasks were started but left unfinished while others were completely ignored or forgotten – leaving participants with an uneasy feeling of not knowing what to do with the everyday items they encountered in the room.
“Niagara College’s Dementia Experience provides participants with an increased knowledge and understanding of the challenges individuals living with cognitive delays, physical barriers or sensory sensitivities experience on a daily basis,” said Haver. “NC is proud to provide this unique learning opportunity to our students and members of the community in an effort to increase empathy and awareness of attitudes towards vulnerable populations.”
“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the Dementia Experience at Niagara College,” said one participant from the John Howard Society. “Prior to attending I really thought that I understood the struggles that individuals experiencing dementia face, however, the experience made me realize just how much I didn’t know. I wish everyone could attend this training – developing an understanding of other people’s challenges is such an important component of building empathy and compassion within our communities and society at large.”
This is the first time the NCDE has been offered to a community organization, but it won’t be the last. In the coming months, members of the Niagara Regional Police Service will participate in the simulation in an effort to better understand building empathy into training in the workplace.
As for members of the John Howard Society, the NCDE was a powerful simulation that will encourage them to develop a person-centered approach when dealing with vulnerable members of our community.
“Thank you so much for allowing the John Howard Society to take part in this experience. I found it extremely valuable and eye-opening. The experience made me feel many emotions and as a result, I have even more compassion for individuals with dementia and their family members. This experience has prompted me to do more research and educate myself further.”
Since 2017, Niagara College has been delivering the NCDE to approximately 500 students each term.