To understand a loved one with dementia, sometimes you have to walk a mile in their shoes. TV host and author Leeza Gibbons went through uncharted waters caring for her mother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She wanted to use that experience to help others by establishing Leeza’s Care Connection, a place where you can find answers and support from people with similar experiences.
“We are a place for caregivers to answer the question ‘Now what?’ A place to begin or bolster the journey when someone you love gets sick. We connect you to resources, to others on a similar path and to your own strength to become more confident as a care partner,” Gibbons says of the organization.
Oftentimes, those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s feel confused, sad and even frustrated. That’s why Gibbons utilizes the Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT) at Leeza’s Care Connection. It helps caregivers grow their empathy by educating them about what their loved ones are facing. “The VDT is a handson opportunity to answer the question ‘What’s it like to have Alzheimer’s?’” says Gibbons. “If we can demystify it, we can offer dignity and compassion. The first time I did the VDT tour, I cried and cried. It was an overwhelming sense of acknowledgment of what my mother had endured. Even though I did the VDT after she died, it still helped me make peace with her journey.”
HOW IT WORKS
The participant is “garbed” to create a dementia-like state: shoe inserts to create the feeling of neuropathy, headphones to cause distraction, eyeglasses to simulate macular degeneration and gloves to mimic arthritis and neuropathy. Then tasks are given, such as setting the table, taking out medication or making change. When you are “disabled” by the challenges created by the VDT and you’re trying to complete the tasks, it provokes feelings of frustration.
“By approximating a dementia-like state, we [caregivers] can understand the steep mountain our loved ones climb, and we can be more empathetic,” says Gibbons. “I think the most powerful part of the VDT is the ‘debrief’ that comes afterwards. Participants talk to a trained facilitator about how to handle feelings that surface. This is transformative and allows us to alter the way we react and respond to our loved ones.”
Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center offers this experience for free. The tour takes less than 10 minutes, and the briefing and post-discussion make the total time commitment about 45 minutes.
For more information, call 888-OK-LEEZA (655-3392) or visit firstname.lastname@example.org