Dementia simulator allows caretakers to better understand patients

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SHERMAN, TX -- Assisted living employees and family members of dementia patients experienced first-hand what it feels like to live with dementia symptoms Thursday.

Pecan Point Assisted Living put on a "dementia simulator."

Participants wear gloves and socks filled with popcorn kernels - simulating the pain that many elderly patients feel walking - goggles that mimic Macular Degeneration and ear plugs that recreate hearing loss.

Then they're put in a dark, noisy room.

Selina Klinghamer, Pecan Point employee, said the simulator helped her better understand dementia symptoms.

"It was very difficult," she said. "And to hear people telling you about it is very different than actually experiencing it."

Director Shannon Chartier said that's exactly why they hosted the simulator - to put caretakers in the minds of their patients.

"We just get frustrated with the symptoms, and so when we understand maybe what they're going through, we might just take a step back and be more empathetic," she said.

Thursday's event included a presentation on living with dementia and the importance of elderly patients receiving an official diagnosis once they start to lose functionality.

"And with that, we can establish not only what kind of dementia it is, but at what stage it is, and what we can do to maintain the level of function that the patient has right now," said Dr. Vanessa Ohnes.

And participants in the simulator struggled with even the simplest of tasks.

"One of the things I would have never thought of was trying to pull several different things apart from each other, like the cups on the counter," Klinghamer said.

Chartier said they're thinking about putting employees through the simulator on a regular basis to give them a constant reminder of what their residents deal with.

Klinghamer agrees with the idea.

"After having done this, I think anyone who comes here to apply for a job should have to do this first before they ever even say that they want to work here," she said.

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