Comfort Keepers 1

ANOTHER VIEW — Comfort Keepers Operations Manager Angela McClain dem­onstrates how to use the virtual reality headset of Embodied Labs, an immersive learning system designed to help transform the way they care for clients.

LANCASTER ­— Im­ag­ine having tunnel or blurred vision, for­get­ting the people you love and ex­periencing hal­lu­cin­a­tions coupled with loss of motor skills, constant par­a­noia and severe de­pres­sion.

This is only a snap­shot of what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s disease.

Comfort Keepers in Lan­caster has partnered with Embodied Labs as part of a pilot project ac­ross the country to help trans­form the way they care for clients and ap­proach caregiver edu­ca­tion.

With Embodied Labs’ im­mer­sive learning sys­tem, which utilizes state-of-the-art virtual reality storytelling, Comfort Keep­ers invites the com­mu­nity to “take a walk in their shoes” by seeing through the eyes of loved ones who may be facing certain conditions.

Through a combination of filmmaking, software de­velopment, educational de­sign and interactive media, Embodied Labs builds narratives based on case studies of real pa­tients to create an un­for­gettable learning exper­ience.

This was my exper­i­ence:

I put on my virtual real­ity headset, which al­lows for 360-degree cov­­er­age, and was im­me­diately transported into the world of Beatriz, a woman who experiences early, middle and late stage Alzheimer’s. I see a floating brain that highlights the different lobes and their function throughout the body.

After a quick science lesson on how Alzheimer’s effects the brain, I am sitting in the park watch­ing my grandson Junior climb across the table. My daughter Camilla yells at me to watch him, but I cannot move fast enough to stop him from falling. Then, I am in a grocery store trying to follow my list of items. I am having a hard time distinguishing the difference between “flour” and “flower” and can barely grab the items placed in front of me. Next, I am in my house alone and hear something banging against the door. I see shadows of someone trying to break in and call out for help, but no one is there. It was just a hallucination. I find myself in the kit­chen cutting potatoes, un­able to properly hold the knife. My family comes in and sees me struggling, but they do not understand what I am feeling — scared and isolated. I move on to the bathroom, where I am taking a shower and cannot grab the soap or sponge to clean myself. I call out for my daughter to come help, but she slips and bangs her head on the wet floor. I can see that I am causing conflict between my family and caregivers as they argue, but feel so helpless that I cannot do anything about it. When it’s time to take my medicine, I cannot even lift up the cup without the help of my nurse.

As I removed my head­set, I felt a little dis­or­i­ented, frustrated and more enlightened to what liv­ing with Alzheimer’s is like. My first thought was, “I never want that to happen to me.” Al­though we can’t stop the many existing dis­eases and conditions that af­fect those we love, we can un­derstand more about how they affect them — and increase our com­passion and un­der­stan­ding.

“Embodied Labs truly opens your eyes and puts this disease into per­spec­tive,” Comfort Keepers Op­er­ations Manager An­gela McClain said. “We have textbook knowledge, but experiencing this first-hand really brings it to life.”

Besides Beatriz, there are two other narratives: Al­fred, a 74-year-old man with macular degeneration and high-frequency hear­ing loss, and Clay, a 66-year-old man who goes through all stages of end of life.

“The goal is to in­cor­porate this program into our caregivers’ training to put them in the shoes of their patients,” McClain said.

She said one of her nurses went through the Alfred lab and was in tears afterward, using what she learned to care for a real patient with macular de­generation. “I now un­der­stand the challenges she faces daily and why it may take her longer to respond sometimes,” she said.

Comfort Keepers has been elevating the human spir­it for more than 20 years and offers sen­iors ser­vices such as com­pan­ion care, personal care, daily nu­tri­tion, trans­por­tation, ad­vanced care and tech­nology.

“The goal is to help and em­power them to live the life they want for as long as they can,” McClain said.

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