I tried the dementia simulator being used to train Bognor care staff- here's what happened

"Everything is simultaneously too loud and impossibly far away. It is a chaos of contradictions."

Monday, 25th October 2021, 3:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 9:14 am

The woman is talking to me. Her lips are moving and her hand's outstretched, counting down from five. It's impossible to tell what she's saying. There's so much noise in here and I can't distinguish any of it: laughter, people talking, radio static, television chatter, a police siren somewhere in the distance. Everything is simultaneously too loud and impossibly far away. It is a chaos of contradictions.

Before I know it, she's left me to my own devices. Trying to guess at her instructions, I stumble over to what looks like a sink full of dishes. It's dark in here, my feet hurt and my hands are numb, clumsy things. They belong to someone else. But I get to work, putting the dishes on one side and the cutlery, bundled in what must be a kind of jug, on the other.

I can only hope I'm doing the right thing, and I'm halfway through when the woman comes back. With an air of irritated disinterest, she sweeps my hard work back into the sink, puts her hand on my arm and, speaking into my ear, says the only thing I've understood so far: 'do something useful'.

Staff at Abbots Lawn care home

Thankfully, none of this is real. It's all part of a virtual dementia tour: a training exercise designed to give carers a taste of what it means to live with a degenerative brain disease. Thick gloves and painful rubber insoles simulate mobility problems, goggles obscure your sight, and headphones recreate a dementia patient's hypersensitivity to sound, as participants are tasked with completing five simple jobs in a dimly-lit room.

"We want everybody- cooks, cleaners, care staff, admin like myself- to go through this in order to understand what it's like living with mid-stage dementia, how it affects your senses, just to give them that sympathy." So said Rebecca Newman-Smith, business manager at Abbots Lawn care home, which welcomed the virtual dementia tour earlier today.

The care home, in Sylvan Way, Bognor Regis, provides specialist support to patients with dementia and signed up for the tour in order to give staff appropriate experience with the disease, although staff from Ashbury care home also took part in the training.

"People with dementia are often given a lot of medication because they can be quite destructive," Mrs Newman-Smith continued. "And that's not how we do things. They are allowed to walk around and take the place apart, and it's our job to put it back together. We like to let them think and feel and live in the world they're in. This helps us understand that a bit more, but also, it means that, because we allow our patients to live their lives the way we do, they're more likely to come into contact with more of our staff: with cleaners, with maintenance."

The virtual dementia tour, which is experienced by 200,000 people in the UK every year, hopes to encourage small-changes in care homes up and down the country which might make life for people with dementia more comfortable.

If the response of staff at Abbot Lane care home is anything to go by, it's doing exactly that: "I found it very weird, but it was useful. I'm a cleaner and I have to go in their personal space everyday and this really helps," said staff member Michelle Ainger.

"It was scary, very scary. and confusing. But it made me realise what patients are going through, what I can do to help them," added deputy manager Samantha Wright.