Dementia Training for Caregivers

As the saying goes, you cannot fully understand what another person’s life is like until you “walk a mile in their shoes.” That’s the point behind an innovative training program designed to help caregivers truly appreciate what life is like for their loved ones with dementia. According to an article on, a division of the Pennsylvania newspaper the Erie Times-News:

“You don’t know what they go through until you do this test yourself,” said [Patty Gregory, a certified nursing assistant at Saint Mary’s Home of Erie]. “I took care of my father for 12 years, and now I truly know what he went through.”

In order to give caregivers a taste of what what an elderly person with dementia experiences, this is what they go through:

  • Kernels of uncooked popcorn are put in their shoes to make walking more difficult;
  • Kernels of popcorn are dropped into rubber gloves before sliding them onto the caregivers’ hands;
  • Some fingers of the gloves were taped together to make it more difficult to grab and hold objects;
  • They wore goggles with dark circles taped to the middle of each lens to approximate what macular degeneration does to vision;
  • A CD played loud static and other distracting sounds through headphones;
  • Strobe lights flickered.

The caregivers were then escorted to an empty patient room and told to perform five simple tasks—such as pouring half a glass of water and folding towels—but they had to listen to instructions through the static and noise, or read a list in which the words were scrambled. It was a difficult chore. According to the article:

“Where’s the water, where’s the water, where’s the water?” nursing assistant Alice Flemings said after entering the training room. “Oh my, oh my. Where am I going?”

“Take your time and calm down,” said DeAndra Jackson, a Saint Mary’s Home employee whose job during training was to ensure the nursing assistant did not walk into a door or otherwise hurt themselves.

Some nursing assistants were able to complete most of their tasks, while others struggled to finish even one.

One nursing assistant, who asked not to be identified, was so visibly aggravated when she walked out of the simulation room that Jackson jokingly called her a “noncompliant patient.”

The exercise helped caregivers to understand that it takes more patience to work with people with dementia and physical impairments, and that hurrying them along may only serve to make them agitated.

“My love for people has never changed and never will change,” Gregory said. “But until you walk in that room, you will never know the deep impact a disease like dementia can have.”

Such a fascinating program. It seems that this type of training should be required for anyone who works in a nursing home.

To read the full article, click here:  Erie nursing home shows aides what dementia is like

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