Nancy Schroeder and Chris Storck had a rare opportunity to walk in someone else's shoes.
Schroeder and Storck took part in a Virtual Dementia Tour hosted by Second Wind Dreams in New Richmond. The tour gave anyone who wanted to take part an opportunity to experience what carrying out normal daily tasks are like for a person with dementia.
Schroeder called the experience enlightening. Storck had a similar reaction.
"It was truly horrible," said Storck, who is the Nutrition Program Manager at Roberts Senior Center. "It was the most confusing 10 minutes I have ever had in my entire life."
The participants were given goggles to simulate vision difficulty, headphones to enhance background noise, gloves with fingers sewn together and inserts in shoes to cause further discomfort.
Once all of these things were put into place, the participants were given tasks to carry out in eight minutes.
Schroeder remembers being told to draw an image of a clock with the time 11:10, find and put on a blue jacket, and then put seven pennies in a container.
"I couldn't find any of those things," Schroeder said. She went so far as to say, "None of those things existed."
St. Croix County dementia specialist Nancy Abrahamson said that could be the result of a couple of things.
The first was that Schroeder may not have heard the directions that she was given because the headphones add extra background noise further complicating what she was hearing.
"One of the things with dementia is that the brain doesn't shut down the background noise," Abrahamson said. "It's possible that the things she needed were in the room, but she didn't hear the correct directions."
The background noise affected Storck as well. Her first task was to take pills out of a pill bottle and put them into a cup to be taken at a later point. She said she was unable to distinguish what size the pills were or what color they were.
By the time Storck placed two pills into a cup, she had forgotten what her next task was. After standing around attempting to think of her next task, she thought she heard directions to create a grocery list with seven brown things.
"Nobody ever told me to do that at all," Storck said. "I did it, but I have no idea why I did that."
Another possibility is that she got distracted and only heard part of the directions and then came up with her own directions based on what she thought she had heard.
Abrahamson said that with dementia, it is hard to focus and a person with the disease could easily get distracted by any pain throughout the body.
"Sometimes people kind of daydream and while they're daydreaming they're transported into a different time in their life," Abrahamson said. "Once that happens, it's very hard for them to remember anything that has just happened."
Two weeks after the event took place, the experiences are already helping these two participants.
Schroeder said her interactions with her mother, who has dementia, have improved as she's learned how the disease affects her mother.
"I changed the way I was communicating with her and had one of the best experiences with my mom that I've had in a long time," Schroeder said. She said she used a picture of a peacock that was on a postcard to start a conversation. "When I used to go visit her, I would ask her what she had for lunch or how her day was going, but she can't verbalize that because of her short-term memory."
Now that Schroeder understands the challenges that her mother has with hearing and vision, she has simplified her conversations.
Storck said she was aware of the unique challenges that people with dementia have, but the virtual tour gave her a direct sense of what the disease does to a person.
"Personally, I think the tour is something that every person who is going to work in a care center should have to do on an annual basis," Storck said. "That way they remember how hard it is for these people to live with this every day."