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Virtual Dementia Tour Fosters Understanding, Compassion for Seniors

BONITA SPRINGS, FL–Imagine the feeling of needles pricking your feet with every step, your hands unable to button your shirt, your eyes so foggy you can barely see in front of you. Seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease and various forms of dementia have to live with many of those symptoms and more each and every day. The Virtual Dementia Tour, also known as the VDT, is offered by Oasis Senior Advisors, a Bonita Springs-based franchisor. The tour gives caregivers, health care workers and family members a first-hand glimpse of what a person with the disease experiences.

“The goal of the whole program is to educate,” Oasis Senior Advisors Operations Administrator Dawn Osterweil said. “It’s to provide education to the community as to what a person goes through, what a day in the life of a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be like.”

Osterweil and Oasis Senior Advisors Operations Representative Jenny Conder recently attended training in Georgia. Both received certification from the nonprofit organization Second Wind Dreams to facilitate the Virtual Dementia Tour. The VDT is an interactive sensory experience developed by Geriatric Specialist P.K. Beville and can be conducted in a variety of settings.

Oasis Senior Advisors has a recreational vehicle that’s specially outfitted for taking the tour on the road. Osterweil and Conder plan to assist the growing number of Oasis Franchisees by conducting the tour at conventions, healthcare communities, assisted living communities, nursing homes, churches and other gathering places where people can experience, learn and gain a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease.

Tour participants are “garbed up” for the VDT with inserts in their shoes designed to mimic the feeling of neuropathy that often accompanies Alzheimer’s and other age-related conditions. They wear gloves that make it difficult to use their hands, and headphones that exhibit background noise inherent in everyday life. They wear glasses that impair vision, making everything blurry, another condition of aging.

While all of these distractions take place, VDT participants are asked to perform simple, everyday tasks, like setting a table, walking, picking up objects and counting coins. Participants find these tasks much harder and, in many cases, impossible.

After the tour is over, a short debriefing takes place. During this time, participants of the VDT are asked to explain how they felt. “You often get a spouse or caregiver who is at their wit’s end, and they come out of the tour and say, ‘Oh my gosh! Is that what’s happening to my wife? Is that what’s going on in her world?'” Osterweil said. “The VDT offers a greater respect and understanding of what people are going through.”

Conder and Osterweil are now trained to offer coaching and insight on how to provide better care to those with the disease.

“We tell participants not to get angry or frustrated with the person; get angry or frustrated at the disease,” Conder said. The goal of Oasis Senior Advisors is to educate the community through the Virtual Dementia Tour to ensure that those with Alzheimer’s and related dementias receive the best care.

The tour allows Oasis to offer a new dimension to franchisees and further the company’s mission of delivering compassionate, personalized senior living solutions.

“It’s a great way for franchise owners to build relationships and partnerships within their respective communities,” Conder said.