Ojai Valley Community Hospital Physicians and Staff Experience “Virtual Dementia Tour”

It’s been said that walking in another’s shoes is the key to empathy, but for many physicians, nurses, and caregivers, truly relating to some of the health challenges their patients and loved ones face can be difficult – if not impossible.  Have you ever walked with the tingling soles of a person with neuropathy, written a note with fumbling fingers, or tried to select an outfit without the ability to discern colors?

OVCH Nursing Director Ed Pulido (L), Kris Martin, Owner of Homewatch CareGivers of Thousand Oaks and facilitator of the VDT, and Lupe Vaca, CMHS RN, pose for a photo inside the VDT simulation environment.

These are just some of the many challenges faced on a daily basis by the 5.7 million Americans that have Alzheimer’s Disease, which is the most common type of Dementia.  With this number expected to rise to nearly 14 million by the year 2050, it’s imperative that both Dementia treatment training and social awareness efforts increase to prepare for this impending health crisis.

Ojai Valley Community Hospital (OVCH) recently played host to an interactive and immersive experience designed to do just that.  The Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT) is a mobile unit that gives medical staff, caregivers, and loved ones the chance to physically experience what those with failing senses and declining mental capacity endure on a daily basis.

OVCH Patient Access Representative Judy Centeno attempts to sort simulated medication while wearing the VDT encumbrances.

Created by R.K. Beville, M.S., and Developed by Second Wind Dreams, a charity dedicated to changing perceptions of aging, the VDT outfits participants with encumbrances that temporarily impair them both physically and cognitively.  It then asks them to perform routine, everyday tasks such as counting change and sorting medication in a home-like environment.  While doing the tour, participants become completely disoriented and disconcerted; their brain just won’t do what they want it to do.

“The Virtual Dementia Tour gave me the opportunity to experience what it’s like to live with Dementia,” said Ed Pulido, Director of Nursing at Ojai Valley Community Hospital.  “The simulation van allowed me to see exactly how peoples’ day-to-day lives are affected.”

“One of our biggest challenges is getting people assisting those with dementia to understand that their behavior is not willful; it’s the disease,” said Kris Martin, Owner of Homewatch CareGivers of Thousand Oaks who partners with Second Wind Dreams to make the VDT available across Ventura County.  “The Virtual Dementia Tour is a way to help them really understand it.”

Team members from a variety of departments at OVCH had the opportunity to experience the VDT.

55 people participated in the VDT at Ojai Valley Community Hospital, including OVCH physicians and staff, caregivers, local Emergency Medical Services personnel, and members of the community.  Homewatch CareGivers and Second Wind Dreams hope that the VDT will change the way medical professionals, caregivers, family members and the general public view and work with people living with dementia, and it certainly made an impact on our teams at OVCH.

CMH 6th Floor Nurse Lupe Vaca took the VDT in order to better understand and empathize with her patients.

“As a nurse, the training was insightful, inspiring, and increased my understanding and empathy for people living with this condition,” continued Pulido.  “I have no doubt that our physicians and staff who attended the training will be better prepared to understand and support the needs of those living with dementia.”

CLICK HERE for more information on the Virtual Dementia Tour or contact Kris Martin at kmartin@homewatchcaregivers.com for details about how to schedule a training.