Virtual Dementia Tour experience for Swansea nursing students

Nursing students at Swansea University’s College of Human and Health Sciences are being given a virtual insight into the life of person experiencing dementia.

With the help of the Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT) bus, students and staff from the College have been putting on headphones, glasses, gloves and shoe insoles which distort the senses and mimic the day-to-day challenges of a dementia sufferer.

Participants are then asked to complete a series of straightforward tasks, such as matching a pair of socks or finding a pair of black glasses. They are monitored to see how they behave throughout the process before completing a full de-brief.

Carys Howells and Junelyn Gozo, second year Adult Nursing students, both experienced the training. Carys said: “The training has been so helpful and relevant to our studies.” Junelyn added: “I found it very emotional. It gave me an insight into those living with dementia.”

Rachel English is studying Mental Health Nursing. She said: “It has been an amazing experience. I think that every healthcare professional should go through the training.”

Head of Nursing, Dr Jayne Cutter also took part in the training, she said: “Nelle Harper Lee said in her novel,  To Kill a Mockingbird: “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” How true!Today I went on the Virtual Dementia Tour and to say that this was disturbing would be an understatement.

“I experienced visual and auditory disturbances, physical discomfort, disorientation, loss of control and the inability to communicate. For me, the experience lasted minutes (although it seemed longer) but for people living with dementia, this is how they live their lives. This short experience gave me some insight into how people with dementia view the world.

“This week, all of our second year nursing students are experiencing the Tour. Students who have already taken part say that this experience has raised awareness and increased their ability to empathise with people in this situation, which will ultimately result in enhanced care and a better quality of life for service users and their families.”

The Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT) was invented by PK Beville, a specialist in geriatric care from America. Beville, who founded not-for-profit organisation Second Wind to change the perception of ageing, started working with elderly people 30 years ago. She quickly became frustrated by what she saw as the “inappropriate use of psychoactive medication and unnecessary hospitalisation” of people with dementia and the lack of support for carers who look after people with this difficult condition.

Beville tried interactive training, role play and videos to help carers understand the reasons behind dementia sufferer’s behaviour, but nothing was changing. But by using extensive observations, interviews with people with dementia and their carers, and current scientific knowledge, she created the VDT.

Glenn Knight runs the UK training company who are delivering the Virtual Dementia Tour. He added: “The Virtual Dementia Tour helps participants to understand what people with dementia experience every day.  It gives you an opportunity to understand what we need to change to keep our loved ones at home longer, improve our practice and improve the quality of our care. Scary, Isolating, confusing and emotional, this experience can truly change the lives of people with this disease.”

The mobile Virtual Dementia Tour will be at Swansea University’s Singleton Campus today (Friday 22 July), before travelling to the University’s St David’s Park Campus in Carmarthen on Monday 25 July.