What is it like to have dementia? Living with someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia gives a caregiver some insight into these diseases, but unless you have it, can you ever know what it’s truly like?
Google has recently partnered with Alzheimer’s Research UK to create a virtual reality walk through dementia. Learn more about the project.
This lack of understanding of dementia has been a barrier to anyone providing care for someone with the disease. It’s also posed a barrier for family members and friends. Reading a list of symptoms or seeing how someone deals with the symptoms is much different from experiencing the symptoms yourself.
These barriers are one of the reasons that dementia is such an isolating disease and leaves voids in our relationships. How do you communicate with or help someone if you don’t really understand what it is they’re going through?
This lack of understanding leads to isolation, which can intensify the anxiety, fear and stress of someone who is trying to cope with the wide array of symptoms that Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can cause.
A Walk Through Dementia is a project that is attempting to bridge the gap in understanding this disease. Google UK has partnered with Alzheimer’s Research UK to create a virtual reality app that takes viewers through a 3D, virtual experience of what daily tasks are like for someone with dementia.
Perhaps one of the most experiential ways to understand and empathize with a person who has dementia, you can download the app from Google’s Play store for free. You can also access the experience through YouTube.
Some of the virtual experiences include:
Although you’re with your son, you’re easily confused on the way home from the store. Your regular route should have an orange car parked to the side, but it’s clearly in the wrong spot. When your son stops to take a phone call you keep going. Surely you know your way home, it’s not that far. But when you turn down your regular short cut you realize it’s actually an unfamiliar alleyway and you start to panic, mistaking a stranger for your son.
Luckily, your son arrives just at the right time. “I was so worried,” he says.
You start to follow him, but “watch out for that hole!” you yell.
“It’s just a puddle, mum” he says.
He walks up the stairs to your home, but you don’t follow. Your vision is impaired and you just don’t think you can manage the stairs today.
Your son doesn’t seem to understand how much your vision is affected sometimes (but not all the time) or how confusing the route home is for you.
Your daughter calls to tell you she’s coming for tea and reminds you how she and her friends take it. “You remember me don’t you mum? My picture’s on the fridge,” your daughter asks at the end of the conversation. “Yes, of course,” you say.
“This is tea. This is simple”, you tell yourself. But you easily become confused and frustrated when you can’t find the tea bags and aren’t sure how much sugar or milk everyone takes. Even though you know you only need to add two sugars you keep adding more, not being able to recognize when you’ve reached two.
In this scenario, it would be much simpler for your daughter to make the tea for everyone herself, but she likely doesn’t realize how taxing the task is and may be worried about impeding your sense of independence.
“The challenge we’ve got as a charity is trying to communicate the reality of what dementia is like for people,” Timothy Parry, Director of Communications for Alzheimer’s Research UK says.
“Using virtual reality is a uniquely powerful way of doing that. This project is about trying to simulate in a way some of the symptoms that people with dementia experience beyond memory loss. There are lots of the issues that a person with dementia faces on a day-to-day basis that people may not realize.”
Whether or not you know someone with dementia, it’s worth the experience of virtually understanding what simple, daily tasks can be like with this disease. If you have a coworker, friend or loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, then this app is a must — take the time to understand the reality of dementia to bridge the gap in your relationship. Doing so will give you greater insight into the mind of the people you’re caring for.
How do you think the Walk Through Dementia project will impact caregivers and those living with the disease? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.