New tool helps medical professionals understand dementia - WFSB 3 Connecticut

New tool helps medical professionals understand dementia

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Linda Fahn uses a dementia simulator to understand her mother's condition. (WFSB photo) Linda Fahn uses a dementia simulator to understand her mother's condition. (WFSB photo)

Doctors, nurses and healthcare workers can now have a better understanding of what dementia does to patients, thanks to a new tool.

It's a new virtual dementia tour and according to experts, it's making a big difference in Connecticut.

Linda Fahn said her mother is one of more than 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease.

"She has dementia, most likely of the Alzheimer's type," Fahn told Eyewitness News. "I noticed that she was having difficulty with her finances."

About two years ago, Fahn's mother became caught up in a sweepstakes scheme.

"My mother was always very capable and very independent and to watch her lose that, it was very difficult," she said.

It was difficult to watch and even more difficult to understand.

Eyewitness News learned about a new virtual reality dementia simulation that memory care staff at The Residence at Brookside in Avon are experiencing as part of training.

"When you experience it firsthand, we see people slow down their approach, not get frustrated [and] have more patience," said Joshua Freitas, who has been helping to educate health professionals and the public through the simulation for six months. "We learn it, we get up, we go out into the community, we walk around, we practice it [and] we talk about how you do that. So it's experiential."

Fahn said she wanted to try out the experience for herself to better understand her mother's condition.

The simulation consists of four sensory-altering components:

  • Glasses that are tinted yellow to represent film that forms over aging eyes.
  • Big gloves are put on and textured inserts are placed in the user's shoes to simulate arthritis.
  • Plugs are put on the nose to make it more difficult to breathe.

"The less oxygen you have, the harder it is to think," Freitas said.

Lastly, headphones blasting music and crowds of people talking all at once are placed on the person's head.

"Somebody in early stages of dementia will drop one out of every four words we speak to them, somebody in mid-stages of dementia will drop three out of every four words and typically they'll remember the first word and the last word we say," Freitas said.

Fahn put on all of it. Then she was asked to perform a series of "simple" tasks like hanging up a bathrobe, making a bed and tying a knot.

She said she learned a whole new perspective.

"I was sort of more in myself instead of experiencing what was around me," Fahn said. "Knowing that she's suffering this way I'm sure is quite a struggle for her."

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