A Walk Through Dementia

What must our loved ones living with dementia go through every day? Many of us are familiar with its symptoms and its effects on our loved ones, but what must it be like to walk in their shoes for a day? “A Walk Through Dementia” is an Android app designed to simulate experiencing symptoms of dementia through virtual reality. The app was created by Alzheimer’s Research UK and includes an introductory video along with 3 different interactive playthroughs of everyday life scenarios in the perspective of someone affected by dementia. The app is free to download on the Android Play Store and can optionally be paired with Google Cardboard to enhance the experience.

I downloaded the app myself and played through the scenarios with headphone on. I started with the short introductory video which welcomes the user and sets the tone for the impending journey through the eyes of an elder living with dementia.

After the introduction, I moved on to the “At the Supermarket” scene. You are tasked with finding and purchasing ingredients for tea at the supermarkets. Right off the bat you have difficulty reading the shopping list- letters and words move and jumble. With your phone at eye level you attempt to navigate the store and reach the checkout line. Upon checkout, you are exasperated to notice some unexpected items in your basket that you don’t remember putting there. The most frustrating part about the experience is that other characters are not sensitive to your situation. Even the character of your son has a disapproving tone when he sees you unknowingly snuck cookies into your shopping basket.

The next scene was “On the Road”. You’re out for a nice walk with your son that takes a turn for the worst as you realize you’re lost and alone. The faces of people walking by change as you desperately try to find and recognize your son. Luckily he finds you and you make it home safely. One of the more shocking parts experiences on the adventure is running into a puddle and seeing a bottomless pit. Misinterpretations and confusion are well known symptoms of dementia, but seeing a gaping hole in the middle of the sidewalk puts the symptoms into perspective. I definitely feel like I empathize more with experiencing these sorts of symptoms on a daily basis.

The last scene was “At Home”. The narrator was definitely less fearful at home, but still experienced difficulties. The task at hand was to follow your daughter’s instructions and make tea for her and her friends. Making tea, something that the individual must have done every day all of her life, became complicated by blind spots, shaky hands, and forgetfulness. Completion of the task was met with disappointment and a lack of understanding from those you served. The takeaway I got from this video was that even at home, in their comfort zone, those affected with dementia can still be hurt by a lack of understanding, even by a loved one. This scenario highlights the need for public awareness on the daily challenges of living with dementia and how to interact with these individuals sensitively and with understanding.

Playing through the scenes definitely evoked frustration. Confusion was presented through time lapses, visual distortions, and an anxious narrator. These factors turned simple daily tasks like shopping into complex, drawn out processes that are often not met with complete success. The scenes in the app were just small instances in one’s daily life. These struggles present themselves constantly in the lives of those living with dementia, and I was grateful to gain some perspective of what that might be like. I hope this app can spread awareness and create empathy and understanding for those who bravely face the challenges presented by dementia.

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