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Dementia tour lets people understand what loved ones are going through

Elizabeth Hall, the regional director for Guardian Angel Homes, prepares Gail Middleton for the Virtual Dementia Tour. The experience helps people understand what inflicted loved ones are going through.
Elizabeth Hall, the regional director for Guardian Angel Homes, prepares Gail Middleton for the Virtual Dementia Tour. The experience helps people understand what inflicted loved ones are going through. Tri-City Herald

Gail Middleton understands what happens when someone starts suffering from dementia.

As a former court-appointed guardian, Middleton protected the interests of inflicted clients in legal cases. As a daughter, she took care of her mother and father as their minds and bodies deteriorated.

But even with hours of training, Middleton didn’t know what to expect when she stepped into the Virtual Dementia Tour at Richland’s Guardian Angel Homes.

“Going through that really makes you think, it’s a horrible disease and it’s much worse than I actually expected,” she said.

Middleton was one of dozens who got to experience first-hand what dementia does to people. Each piece of the tour represents something that is lost as the condition progresses.

There are insoles that are put in your shoes with sharp pieces of plastic poking into your feet to represent gradual nerve damage and pain. Thick work gloves that restrict your hands simulating the stiffness from arthritis.

Dark glasses with a black circle to show the loss of vision. Then the headphones broadcasting a low buzz of barely audible radio traffic because people with dementia have a difficult time sorting out background noise.

Once all of that is on, the participant is led into a darkened room with a strobe light and given a set of tasks. Many people just stand there lost. Others ask for help.

Whatever happens in the eight minutes of the tour, it leaves many shaken and with a better understanding of what their loved ones are going through.

It’s an experience that Rick Bennett wants to bring to more people through his business — The Dementia Coach. Bennett, an adult day care administrator, started the business this spring to help families and caretakers understand dementia better, so they can care for those going through the disease.

Dementia impacts 47 million people worldwide and 5 million Americans. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Even with as wide spread as it is, it could be understood better, Bennett said, which is why he started his business earlier this year. It’s what brought him to the Tri-Cities last week.

Bennett teamed up with Tyson Frantz, a partner with the Couer D’ Alene-based Guardian Angel Homes, to bring it to Richland. Frantz said the tour gives his staff a chance to expand their training.

“We want our staff to go through it to gain the compassion you can only get through an experience like this,” he said. “There is no other way to replicate the understanding you get.”

Frantz wants the public to have a chance to experience the tour, he said. They hope to bring it back to the Tri-Cities in future months.

Anyone interested in The Dementia Coach can contact Bennett at 208-704-4400. Frantz also asked anyone interested in bringing the tour back to the Tri-Cities to call Guardian Angel Homes at 509-420-7070.

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