College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

School of Applied Human Sciences

Virtual Dementia Tour Comes to UNI

On April 8, UNI's Gerontology program brought the Viritual Dementia Tour (VDT) to the Center for Multicultural Education in Maucker Union. 

Kaylan Hamerlinck, who is a graduate of UNI in Gerontology and a trained VDT faciltator, coordinated the event, which is intended to increase empathy for individuals who have Alzheimer's. Hamerlinck currently works for Senior Star and lives in Davenport, Iowa.

Participants in the tour attempt to complete a series of tasks while their senses are impaired in a way that simulates Alzheimer's. The purpose of the tour is to help individuals understand what it is like to have Alzheimer's and to increase their patience and understanding while caring for those with the disease.

"I was shocked to find out how extremely difficult it is for people with dementia to complete a simple task," said Jacque Moorman, a Family Services major who participated in the tour. "There were so many distractions and frustrations that I eventually just gave up on what I was trying to accomplish. This experience gave me some realistic insight into the complex challenges a person with dementia battles every day and it increased my empathy exponentially for those diagnosed with dementia."

Bill Henninger, a faculty member in the School of Applied Sciences, also participated in the tour. His grandfather passed away from complications of Alzheimer's several years ago. 

"I was suprised at how quickly I started doing some of the things I saw my grandfather doing when he had Alzheimer's," Henninger said. "I'm a typically functioning adult, but the simulation really frustrated me and gave me some insight about what my grandpa went through."

Elaine Eshbaugh, who coordinates UNI's Gerontology program and worked with Hamerlinck to bring VDT to UNI, frequently gives community presentations and inservices on Alzheimer's.

Eshbaugh said, "I know a lot about Alzheimer's disease and other dementias but this gave me an entirely new perspective. I now have a much better understanding of why people with Alzheimer's disease behave the way they do."

About 25 participants took part in VDT at UNI. Most students were Family Service or Gerontology majors. Some of the participants are currently enrolled in Families, Alzheimer's, and Related Dementias, which is taught by Eshbaugh.

Alzheimer's is the leading cause of dementia and impacts one in eight persons over the age of 65, according to the Alzheimer's Association. People with Alzheimer's suffer from personality changes, memory loss, issues with problem solving, and trouble interpreting sensory information. Alzheimer's is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. 

Most individuals who have Alzheimer's are over the age of 60. However, some individuals are diagnosed in their 30's and 40's.

"Everyone who works with people with dementia or has someone in their family diagnosed should do VDT," said Eshbaugh. "I am extremely grateful to Kaylan for contacting me and volunteering to hold this event on our campus."

The Virtual Dementia Tour was designed by Second Wind Dreams, a non-profit agency, in order to assist both professional and family cargivers in improving quality of life for those with Alzheimer's and related dementias.