“If you live with dementia, I think your world is a very dark place.”
That is the opinion of Enniskillen woman Margaret O’Donoghue who recently participated in a Dementia Virtual Tour which was brought to Enniskillen by the Western Health and Social Care Trust.
The Dementia Virtual Tour is a mobile dementia simulator in which care professionals or family members can receive training in what dementia might be like. Participants wear headphones which play chaotic sounds and noise, dark glasses and gardening gloves. They are then asked to do simple tasks like write a letter.
The Western Trust invested in bringing the simulator to Enniskillen last week, and staff from a number of care homes in the area were trained on the reality of dementia.
It is estimated that 19,700 people are living with dementia in Northern Ireland, with over 500 in the Fermanagh area. Due to an ageing population, this number is expected to rise to over 60,000 in the next 30 years.
Margaret, whose 76-year-old mother May Maguire from Cornagrade is a resident at Ashbrooke Care Home, entered the virtual tour and took a walk in the shoes of a person with dementia.
“The best word to describe it is ‘weird’,” Margaret told The Impartial Reporter.
She explained that she could not manage to sit on the seat on the dementia simulator, such was her level of disorientation. “Something you’ve done your whole life, suddenly you’re not able to do it,” Margaret commented.
Referring to the earphones and dark glasses, she added: “You wouldn’t believe how much the noise can irritate you. I think if you have dementia, your world is a very dark place.”
The experience has helped Margaret to better understand her mother’s dementia. “Obviously as a carer you become more aware of dementia and the impact it can have but the simulator was a great insight into what dementia is about,” she said. “Nothing is straight-forward. Even the simplest thing is a big task. For mammy it’s lifting a cup of tea or bringing a piece of bread to her mouth – she wouldn’t have a clue and she used to love her cups of tea,” said Margaret.
“You don’t want to take their independence away from them so I would say: ‘Eat your breakfast mammy’ but she doesn’t know what to do with the spoon.”
Margaret believes: “Dementia is one of the cruellest diseases.” She stated: “We are all guilty of taking things for granted. I’ve never got an answer as to why mammy got dementia but to watch her deterioration is terrible; it’s heart-breaking.”
‘Dementia’ is an umbrella term for the symptoms caused by a range of diseases such as memory loss, confusion and personality change. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.