Dementia: How Empathizing with Patients Benefits Everyone

May 25, 2015

When you’ve had a bad day, isn’t it nice to have someone to sit down and listen to you? Perhaps it was one of those days A virtual experience of the life in a dementia patient may help you to manage episodes more effectively. in which you just couldn’t get out of your own way. You couldn’t seem to focus, and you just felt like the day would never end. Your feet hurt, your eyes are tired, and you feel generally overwhelmed.

For most of us, days like that may be common, but they’re not our constant experience. However, for dementia patients, such days are the norm. They live in a state of confusion and soreness. They frequently feel overwhelmed and may suffer from vision or hearing problems.

An Exercise in Empathy

More than 5 million patients suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Learning more about what their loved ones with this disease go through helps caregivers to empathize, and even to be more effective caregivers.

One senior living center offered to give caregivers and employees a virtual experience to replicate what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a dementia patient. For only few minutes, participants experienced the symptoms that their loved ones and patients live with every day. The participants received inserts with rubber spikes for their shoes. This helped sharers sense the discomfort that many elderly feel as a result of poor circulation. Next, they were given oversized gloves to simulate what it feels like to lose motor skills. Participants were also deprived of their vision with the aid of special goggles that mimic the effects of macular degeneration. Finally, they put on headphones that emitted a constant stream of noise to replicate the way that those with hearing loss experience sound.

Participants were then given five tasks to complete. Responses to the experiment ranged from “depressing,” to “scary and awful.” Others felt very confused and overwhelmed.

Empathizing with Patients Helps You, Too

While most patients with dementia do not experience all of these problems at the same time, their symptoms are often severe enough to cause distress. Understanding and even experiencing their feelings can help caregivers to be more patient and effectively manage symptoms.

For instance, patients often do what they can to control their environments. This may translate into picking something up and carrying it around with them. If it’s all right to carry that item, let them have it. If it’s not an acceptable item, try to just swap it out for another item that they find unobjectionable.

Dementia patients may also feel confused when you ask them to do something. Try eliminating as many visual and audible distractions as you can. Speak slowly, and in short sentences. You may find that your loved one responds better when his or her senses are not overwhelmed.

Many dementia patients have a hard time communicating about what is bothering them. They may be cold or hot, their feet may hurt, or they may not be able to hear something well. By checking in with patients frequently, you may be able to soothe their minds by removing their discomfort.

Certainly, caregivers have a difficult task. However, thinking of how your loved one feels, instead of just how he or she acts may help to to alleviate some of the stress and difficulty that comes from caregiving.

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