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Dementia training aims to 'develop empathy'

Program simulates permanent effects of disease for Holland Home employees.

June 29, 2018
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Dementia Journey
Employees are asked to complete five tasks while wearing goggles, gloves, headphones and shoes used to simulate effects of dementia.Courtesy Holland Home

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A local senior living facility implemented role reversal training.

Since 2015, Holland Home’s Memory Care Services instituted a mandatory Dementia Journey training for its entire staff in an effort to simulate the permanent effects patients with dementia experience every day.  

Dementia is not just one disease, according to Lisa Misenhimer, director of Rethinking Dementia: Acceleration Change, a West Michigan organization that focuses on dementia. She said there are different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

RDAC said some of the set symptoms include memory loss, lack of judgment, changes in mood or personality, a decline in the ability to reason and more. Dementia does not affect all patients the same way.

That is why Holland Home’s Dementia Journey training tries to mimic different effects of dementia.

“Although we know that we can’t simulate true dementia, we compromise the senses of people who come to the Dementia Journey (training),” said Lynn Bolt, RN, coordinator of Holland Home Memory Care Services. “So, their sense of sight, their sense of hearing, their sense of tactile touch ...  and we simulate a little bit of pain in their feet. All of their senses are compromised, and we give them tasks to do.”

Bolt is one of a few staff members at Holland Home who conducts the Dementia Journey training once per week. She said they create and develop their own products that include infection control gloves that are covered by a cotton gardening gloves. However, some of the fingers of the gloves are sewn together, which Bolt said gives the simulation of not being able to normally handle things properly.

“In dementia, your first three fingers, your thumb, pointer and middle fingers, are really your skill fingers that we use going through life, and when dementia is detected, you lose the skill in those three fingers,” she said. “So, that is what we are trying to simulate.”

To obstruct hearing, Bolt said they use headphones and an iPod shuffle to create ambient noise. Different types of distorted goggles are used to reduce visibility, and rubber spikes are placed on the ball of their shoes, which Bolt said simulates a tingling feeling in the feet.

After employees put on their goggles, gloves, headphones and shoes, Bolt said they are asked to complete five tasks in another room. Some of the tasks may include writing, folding towels and placing coins in a purse.

“When you think about all those tasks, your vision is distorted, your hearing is distorted and your tactile ability is distorted, so your anxiety level increases because we’ve given you so many tasks to do,” Bolt said. “The ultimate goal of this is to try to recognize what is happening with (our) residents and try to respond appropriately to what they are going through.”

In a research that was conducted at the end of last year by Holland Home, the organization had 352 residents in their assisted living and long-term care facilities on all three of its campuses, Breton Woods, Raybrook and Fulton Manor. About 75 percent, Bolt said, had some form of dementia.

Misenhimer said dementia is not only on the rise in the country but also in West Michigan, courtesy of the increase in older people.

“Right now, we say we have 13,000 people in Kent County and 18,000 people in the surrounding counties in West Michigan have some form of dementia,” she said.

According to RDAC, older adults with Alzheimer’s disease will increase by 22 percent by 2025, from 180,000 to 220,000 in Michigan.

Bolt said Holland Home received a grant this year to further develop Dementia Journey. Prior to the start of the Dementia Journey, she said Holland Home relied on online and in-person workshops, but now the training gives its staff a firsthand experience.

“The bottom line is to develop passion and empathy,” Bolt said.

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