Topics Dementia

Dementia is often not well understood. It's a growing issue with 111,000 people in Victoria alone with dementia, projected to increase to 485,000 by 2050. They are staggering statistics and it's essential to improve education for people working in the industry and for people and their families. 

The stigma associated with dementia is very real, even today, although things are slowly changing. Staff at AccessCare recently had the oportunity to attend dementia training using virtual reality technology. We learned a lot about dementia and how to positively adapt a person’s environment to help them continue to live a full life. Here's just a snapshot of our experience.

Transported to 3am, a dark bedroom 

The training involved a virtual reality scenario. We put the head sets on and were transported to a dark bedroom, at 3am. A man with dementia, standing beside a bed. A lady lay in bed calling out ‘what are you doing’. We controlled the experience with our eyes, looking around the room at all the little things to get our bearings. We needed to hold on to our chairs to ensure we didn't get disorientated and try to walk anywhere. There's a temptation to start walking because the experienced feels so real.  As I looked around the room I saw shadows, blurry wallpaper, and a little white dot. I focused on the white dot with my eyes and the experience moved me along from the side of the bed, out of the bedroom, across the lounge room, down the hallway and into the toilet. It wasn’t easy. The feeling of anxiety and stress felt very real as I made my way around the semi darkness to the toilet, or what I thought was the toilet, in the middle of the night. The scenario takes me into the laundry where unfortunately I mistake the laundry basket for the toilet. The experience then finishes and I take the headset off. 

Our trainer then stepped us through the scenario again as a group, showing us what was confusing us along the way. It was the darkness. The busy wallpaper pattern. The glass coffee table which we couldn't see in the dark. The grandfather clock was chiming away, distracting and distressing us at the same time. The hallway runner looked like a hole in the ground, causing more anxiety. The laundry basket did in fact look like a toilet, with the lid propped open. 

We then put the headsets back on to experience the same scenario with the environment altered to better suit a person with dementia. The difference was incredible. A night light in the bedroom provided much better visibility. The wallpaper had been removed. The lounge room light automatically came on when we entered the room. The clock had been silenced. The glass table was no longer there. In it’s place was a wooden coffee table and red couches. The light switch was red. The hallway runner was gone, so the hole in the floor was gone. The toilet had a sign on the door. And the toilet itself had a red seat, to ensure it was easy to see. 

Changing the environment matters

The scenario showed us all that small changes in the environment can really make a huge difference to simple daily tasks, like going to the toilet in the middle of the night.  Here is a snapshot of simple changes to the environment that can help someone with dementia:

  • Night light
  • Larger clock
  • Block out curtains
  • Simple wallpaper or none 
  • Labels on doors
  • Door handles that can be pushed down rather than the round ones
  • Coloured light switches
  • Memory board
  • Remove floor runners
  • Coloured toilet seat

Here is a detailed fact sheet from Dementia Australia on adapting your home 

Keep your routine

Our trainer explained that Dementia means you can’t form new memories, so sticking to a person’s existing routine where possible is really important. This is where supporting people to remain living at home can be so beneficial. It allows them to maintain their old routine and ways, and continue functioning. One great example provided was that of a plumber. Imagine you are placed in residential care. You need to then follow the routine of the facility as to when you shower, eat, etc. Suddenly you are asked to shower at 7am, when all your life you have showered in the evening after work. Given you cannot form new memories, you cannot understand this situation and may get distressed at this. Being able to stay at home, with support, means you can continue to function and stick to your routine which you remember in your long term memory. 

It’s also important to physically stay active. Dementia does not cause incontinence, however too much sitting can weaken the muscles and lead to incontinence. It may take longer for someone with dementia to complete daily tasks, however the brain may be able to  adapt and work out how to do something with additional time and patience.

Focus on what is working

As people working in the industry it was also reinforced that it’s important to focus on what people can do and what is working such as:

  • Checklists
  • Gardening
  • Washing the car
  • Reading
  • Word puzzles
  • Using the computer
  • Conversations
  • Walking the dog

It’s about encouraging self-determination, decision making and human rights. Focusing on the client’s goals and supporting them to be independent. I know that many of our team are already focused on ways to help our clients with dementia and this training session has built upon this understanding. We are determined to help our clients stay at home and continue to living a good life. 

Watch Maureen’s story

More resources

• Download the Dementia Australia app from the apple store or Google Play 'A dementia-friendly home' to learn more about how to design a home to be dementia friendly. 
• Factsheet on adapting your home 
• Website dementia.org.au