One of our clinical objectives this year is to become a more dementia-friendly hospice: we want to achieve better standards of care for patients living with life-limiting illness who may also have a dementia diagnosis or cognitive impairment. We’re learning more about the symptoms, up-skilling our doctors and nurses and working to make our physical hospice environment safer for people with a dementia diagnosis.
Last week, as part of this development process, we were thrilled to host The Virtual Dementia Tour at our hospice. The tour is a medically and scientifically proven experience that provides an accurate, immersive sense of what dementia might be like. It was attended by 36 of our hospice team, many of whom work and care for people our our Inpatient ward, and is described as ‘must have’ training for every care professional or family member that wants to understand dementia by walking in the shoes of a person with the disease.
‘Dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. These changes are often small to start with, but for someone with dementia they have become severe enough to affect daily life. A person with dementia may also experience changes in their mood or behaivour. Through various means including the wearing of virtual reality glasses, thick gloves and headphones, participants had their senses altered and were asked to complete five basic tasks, evoking feelings of anxiety, confusion and vulnerability.
Barbara Williams, Chief Executive of St Peter & St James, found the experience extremely thought-provoking.
‘There were so many layers to the experience,’ she says. ‘I will reflect on the learning further, I’m sure. We very quickly got to the heart of how it can feel for someone with dementia – we became compliant, disempowered and bewildered – behaved quite unlike ourselves.’
Kezia and Maria, nurses on our Inpatient Ward, both feel the experience has altered their perceptions of dementia and will improve the care they provide in future.
‘Becoming a person with a diagnosis of dementia, if only for a short period of time through simulation, was both daunting and highly enlightening,’ Kezia said. ‘I was left in awe of those diagnosed with dementia and their family members: at their strength and courage in living with a condition that continues to carry stigma and misunderstanding.’
‘It was such a great experience that made me aware of what a person who is living with dementia going through,’ Maria added. ‘ I wish I had this training before I started caring for people with dementia or with cognitive impairments.’