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May 5, 2016

'Virtual dementia tour' helps caregivers understand
The Concord Journal

Imagine having to complete household chores like folding the laundry and setting the table while wearing thick gloves, goggles that obstruct and blur vision and headphones that provide a loud and constant stream of chatter.

That was the challenge Concord residents Amy Gleason and Annette Pollack found themselves facing as they navigated through a dark room, interrupted with flashes from a strobe light.

The exercise simulated the cognitive challenges people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease face when it comes to routine tasks, and Pollack said, “I’m completely exhausted” after the exercise, while Gleason admitted, “It felt dark, it was hard to see.”

Gleason and Pollack spent part of their afternoon on May 3 at the Wellesley office of CareDimensions, a non-profit organization started in 1978 that provides care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses.

Both are CareDimensions volunteers who give their time to help people in the final stage of life, and the headphones, goggles and gloves were part of the wardrobe for a training exercise called the “Virtual Dementia Tour.” The goal is to simulate what’s it’s like for someone living with dementia and Alzheimer’s, so volunteers are more empathetic and in a better position to provide quality care.

Pollack was given five tasks – find a white sweater, write a three-sentence note, set the table, fold towels and fill up a cup half way and drink it. Not only did she have to do it in a dark room with the pulsing light from the strobe while wearing gloves, goggles and headphones, but she also wore plastic shoe inserts with small protrusions on the bottom to simulate the painful experience of neuropathy.

“Am I done?” Pollack asked after a few minutes in the room, and Mary Crowe responed, “You have more to do.”

Crowe is an education specialist at CareDimensions, and she took notes in the room while Pollack and Gleason tackled the training exercise. Crowe said she was trained by P.K. Beville, the inventor of the “Virtual Dementia Tour,” which has been presented to more than a million people in 17 countries.

“Alzheimer’s is a terminal illness, but there’s quality of care and life to be had,” Crowe said to explain her work.“How we care for patients and approach them will determine their quality of life.”

Pollack and Gleason have a personal connection to dementia and Alzeimer’s disease. Gleason said her mother suffered from dementia and turned to hospice care at the end of her life, while Pollack’s mother is living with dementia at 97 and her mother-in-law passed away from Alzheimer’s.

According to Crowe, Pollack completed two of the five tasks in the virtual tour, while Gleason finished one.

“It was frustrating to have all the senses compromised,” Pollack said. “There came a point when I thought, ‘all I want to do is stop, I can’t handle this anymore.’”

But she didn’t give up, and said she understood the value of the virtual exercise.

“It’s going to help me understand why my mom can feel frustrated,” Pollack said.

Gleason said she was surprised when told she finished only one task, but said the exercise will make her “more sensitive and compassionate.”

Concord residents Barbara Aiello and Betsy Swaim also completed the virtual tour. The next one sponsored by CareDimensions is May 11 at Emerson Hospital. For more information, log on to



Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 95 communities in Eastern Massachusetts.