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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