By Kris Rued-Clark
MARSHFIELD—Imagine being alone in a darkened room. It’s an unfamiliar setting. A kind stranger asks you to complete a short list of simple tasks. Pinpricks of pain jolt your feet with every step. Buzzing, humming, random noises distract every thought. Visibility is next to zero, just making out vague shapes and the ability to feel anything is greatly hampered. Alternating waves of panic, pain, frustration, and anger sweep over you.
In your urgency to complete your tasks and leave, you forget one of them, and you don’t realize it until much later.
Mercifully, after a few moments you are able, literally, to come back to your senses, but hopefully you will retain a sense of what it felt like as you experienced, if only fleetingly, how a memory-impaired, aging person feels as they attempt to cope with each ordinary moment.
The experience is the Virtual Dementia Tour, described as “your window into their world.” The Virtual Dementia Tour was presented to members of the Alzheimer’s Support group on Aug. 21 at Marshfield Area Respite Care Center, Inc. (MARCC), which provides adult daycare services for older adults with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other dementias and time out for families.
Presented by Samantha Hernandez, a Certified Instructor with the Virtual Dementia Tour, and Nicole Gollhardt, a morning supervisor at Stoney River Assisted Living Center, the Virtual Dementia Tour is designed to give the participant an up-close, hands-on experience for caretakers of individuals with dementia.
In order to replicate the physical sensations, participants are given a pair of plastic shoe inserts, which simulate the pain of arthritis, corns, bunions, and neuropathy. They are also given gloves that create the sensations felt by someone with arthritis or a loss of fine motor skills and compromised tactile senses. Glasses simulate eyesight deterioration, and ear buds put out a sound that is both distracting and agitating.
“For example, if the batteries in someone’s hearing aid are not working, that’s similar to what they might experience,” said Gollhardt. “For people who can’t grab objects or feel things like they used to, if they can’t hear well, and they have pain in their feet, that’s all very distracting. It’s hard for them to focus on a caregiver giving instructions.”
Gollhardt has explained to the staff members who have undergone the Virtual Dementia Tour, “That’s how your resident will feel.”
Members of the Marshfield Fire and Rescue Department have taken the Virtual Dementia Tour, and members of the public were invited to take the tour during a presentation earlier this month at Hotel Marshfield.
“We are happy to offer this tour to anyone who is interested,” said Hernandez. “So many people have no idea how to take care of people with memory loss.” Those challenges played a part in the decision to add the Memory Care Center to Stoney River in Marshfield.
“We wanted to reach our clients better,” Hernandez said, adding that the Memory Care Center will open in September and is currently accepting applications.
As someone who works with memory-impaired individuals on a daily basis, Marilyn Seidl-Kramer, director of MARCC, felt she already had an intuitive sense of what her visitors were experiencing even before taking the Virtual Dementia Tour.
“I was surprised by how badly I did,” Seidl-Kramer said. “The googly eyes were what got to me.”
Although many people think the purpose of MARCC is to give caregivers a necessary respite, those who work there are focused on enhancing the lives of their participants. Staffing the program are Seidl-Kramer and Program Assistants Susan Jansen, Aubrey Cherney, Joseph Zellner, Zachary Hoff, and a group of volunteers.
Zellner is a Certified Nursing Assistant who also provides in-home care through an agency and works part-time at MARCC.
“On any given day, we might have perhaps a half dozen people here,” Zellner said. “Some are residents at assisted living centers, and others are being cared for by their families.”
Describing a typical morning, Zellner said, “First I make coffee and then go through the fridge to see what’s on hand for food. Then I empty the dishwasher, and by then the first person comes in, and I serve them coffee and a morning snack and converse with them. Then someone else walks in, and I do the same all over again.”
The staff and volunteers are actively engaged with the people attending.
“We are trying to keep their memory going,” said Zellner. “We play games with them. Trivia, Bingo, and Yahtzee are all good ones. We play a sentences game where they have to complete the sentence or the opposites game where we show a card with a word and they have to say the opposite.”
Staff and volunteers make sure to feed everybody a well-balanced meal and that the participants take all medications as prescribed.
One volunteer comes in regularly and assists the participants in woodworking projects. Every other Friday a music therapy specialist brings songbooks and plays guitar, keyboard, or a harp while participants sing along or play small percussion instruments. A volunteer with a therapy dog also comes in every week.
“You can hold a conversation with a lot of them,” said Zellner. “One lady we call the Trivia Queen. Ask just about any question, and she’ll tell you the answer and more.”
Zellner said that staff and volunteers are completely focused on the individuals they serve.
“It’s about the people. This is a very homey environment. Caregivers know that they have somebody that cares enough to take care of their loved ones. They will be fed a nutritious meal and not be harmed,” Zellner said.
After beginning with MARCC as a volunteer in 2005, Zellner began working part-time when an opening came up.
“When I come up here, I look forward to coming to work,” he said. “The days go fast, and I enjoy my job.”
One of MARCC’s brochures says, “Contrary to popular opinion, this is not a depressing place. It is a happy, relaxed environment that includes a lot of laughter, acceptance, and love.” The Center also conducts monthly support groups for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia and holds a Huntington’s Support Group on demand.
The original employee, Seidl-Kramer, has been working with MARCC since 1995, and the Center opened in 1996.
“We work hard on the utilization of their remaining skills,” Seidl-Kramer said.
Participants are given time to socialize, exercise, and rest while their caregivers have time to run errands, schedule appointments, and take a break.
Students from Marshfield’s alternative school have been assisting at MARCC for 15 years, and clients of Community Employment Training also work at MARCC to be trained.
MARCC is funded by the Marshfield Area United Way, memorial donations, and participant fees. The location is made available by the members of the Wesley United Methodist Church of Marshfield.
For more information, call MARCC at 715-384-8478. Visitors are welcome during any hours that the Center is open, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the Friendship Room of Wesley United Methodist Church, 205 E. Third St., Marshfield.
To schedule a Virtual Dementia Tour or for more information about Stoney River Memory Care, call 715-384-7007. The Virtual Dementia Tour is an invention of P.K. Beville, founder of Second Wind Dreams.