What is it really like to have dementia? We head to Letchworth to find out

PUBLISHED: 10:46 17 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:46 17 July 2019

The Virtual Dementia Tour was founded in America, and has been proven to be the closest a non-dementia sufferer can get to experiencing the condition, Picture: Georgia Barrow

The Virtual Dementia Tour was founded in America, and has been proven to be the closest a non-dementia sufferer can get to experiencing the condition, Picture: Georgia Barrow

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Comet reporter Georgia Barrow was given an insight into the mind of a dementia sufferer as Letchworth and Stevenage care providers completed Virtual Dementia Tour training on Friday.

The Virtual Dementia tour came to Letchworth as part of Home Instead and Bluebird Care's training. Picture: Georgia BarrowThe Virtual Dementia tour came to Letchworth as part of Home Instead and Bluebird Care's training. Picture: Georgia Barrow

Being given a small insight into the mind of a dementia sufferer, the consensus among those taking part was that the experience brings the training back to trying to understand the individual - as well as the condition as a whole.

Approaching the Training2Care Virtual Dementia Tour bus in the car park of Venture House in Letchworth - where home care providers Bluebird Care and Home Instead are based - I was preparing to step into the unknown.

It would become apparent that the unsettled feeling was very much the desired effect, as the course leader abruptly handed me equipment that would submerge me into the experience - including glasses, headphones and gloves.

The sound of static, mumbled conversations and traffic quickly became the only thing I could focus on.

Home Instead carers took part in the Virtuakl Dementia Tour. Picture: Georgia BarrowHome Instead carers took part in the Virtuakl Dementia Tour. Picture: Georgia Barrow

The things we take for granted - like our sight, sense of touch and our brain's ability to automatically filter out annoying background noise - become things you sorely miss during the course of the experience.

The tour was invented 20 years ago by researcher PK Beville and has been medically and scientifically proven to be the closest a person with a healthy brain can get to experience what dementia might be like.

The goal of the virtual tour is to understand dementia from the sufferer's point of view to help families and carers change practice, reduce issues and improve lives.

Bluebird Care director Robert Treschi said: "We have an excellent team with experience in looking after many customers with dementia.

Bluebird Care workers took part in the experience on Friday as part of their training. Picture: Georgia BarrowBluebird Care workers took part in the experience on Friday as part of their training. Picture: Georgia Barrow

"However, all the carers agreed that the Virtual Dementia Tour has enhanced their understanding of the illness, and really gave them a sense of the difficulties a person with dementia is experiencing.

"In future, the carers will be able to understand better what the customer with dementia is feeling and, as a result, give truly excellent care.

"In essence, this is about ensuring that we as carers, families of carers, and society in general, can learn that often the problem is not someone's dementia, but the way that we in society react to the situation.

"It is without a doubt the number one issue among the elderly and has a major impact on the people with dementia and their families.

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"It is also probably the most significant issue facing the NHS and social services in the near future.

"The latest recording figure was 850,000 people living with dementia and the projections are that this will exceed a million by 2025."

Following the experience, the co-ordinator Peter Clay spoke to the group about how carers can use this fresh insight to tailor their care to the individual.

When asked how the tour made them feel, many said "out of control", "unaware of your surroundings", and "lonely".

Speaking to the group, Peter said: "There's a lack of awareness and stigma around dementia and we are trying to turn it into something positive by looking at the ways we can make a difference in people's lives

"The course is done in 20 different countries - three million people have gone through it and it's a fantastic way of learning."

He went on to explain how rather than blaming certain behaviour on dementia, we should explore what is making that person behave in that way, stating "what's happening in their head is reality to them, we need to look at it from their point of view".

There are many different types and causes of dementia, and there is currently no cure for the condition.

Registered care manager for Home Instead Senior Care, Fiona Halliwell, said: "The virtual tour was a very valuable experience to reinforce understanding around how someone with dementia perceives the world around them.

"With this knowledge and understanding, a caregiver can provide the best care possible.

"It was a very thought-provoking experience."

To find out more about Training2Care, go to training2care.co.uk or call 01376 573999.

For more on Bluebird Care, see bluebirdcare.co.uk/stevenage-north-herts, and for further information about Home Instead visit homeinstead.co.uk/stevenage-north-herts.

For more information about the condition, including dementia and Alzheimer's charities which can help, see nhs.uk/conditions/dementia.

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