Beville’s Virtual Dementia Tour, which has been taken by 500,000 people, is a program designed to give users a better understanding of what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s disease.
The experience mimics the cognitive impairment of dementia sufferers, who incur damage to areas of their brains. It “becomes a cascading effect” that leads to a large amount of brain-cell death, according to Beville.
This brain damage causes a person with Alzheimer’s to become easily agitated and act out, Beville said.
Because the Virtual Dementia Tour demonstrates the challenges of living with Alzheimer’s, Beville hopes it will help medical staff and family members of Alzheimer’s patients learn how to calm a person.
Beville said obtaining a patent requires a four-year legal process because each component “had to be specified down to the very minute detail.”
The Virtual Dementia Tour is an 8-minute simulation that disrupts a participant’s senses by using shoe inserts that bow the feet, gloves to mimic arthritis, goggles that replicate aging vision and headphones that emit different types of startling sounds.
Beville said the most common complaint of dementia patients is that they hear a constant roaring.
Each person is observed by a facilitator at all times and is given a questionnaire about the experience, according to Beville.
Janice Keclik, director of community outreach for Homestead Hospice in Roswell, went through the dementia experience and said it was difficult to perform five “very simple tasks” she was told to attempt by the instructor.
Keclik said the impaired sight changed her perception of colors and took away her peripheral vision.
“The sounds are very disturbing,” Keclik said. “It feels like people are talking, but you can’t understand what they are saying.”
The Virtual Dementia Tour is a reusable $450 kit that includes a manual, video, published research studies and online support, Beville said.
Beville said 50 certified independent contractors are trained to administer the method for an additional fee.
Keclik, who said her hospice organization does work across Georgia, bought a kit and became a trained facilitator in the fall of 2010.
As of 2010, 120,000 people in Georgia suffered from Alzheimer’s. By 2025, there will be a 30 percent increase to 160,000 people diagnosed, according to an Alzheimer’s Association report on “Facts and Figures.”
“It doesn’t just hit the person, it hits the community,” Beville said.
Because of this impact, Beville said the teaching method has been given to health care professionals, and demonstrated in nursing schools and universities.
Beville hopes to reach the police and fire departments in Atlanta and Marietta next, because first responders must make “snap decisions” when confronting a person with dementia.
According to Cindy Ledford of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, 132 “Mattie’s Calls” were issued in fiscal year 2012 and 152 alerts were issued for fiscal year 2013, which ends this month.
A Mattie’s Call is issued by local public safety agencies when they believe a disabled person is missing or is in immediate danger. Information is given to help locate the person, according to Ledford.
Education and empathy
Keclik said the struggles she faced for less than 10 minutes in the virtual tour is what a person with Alzheimer’s suffers with all day, every day.
After going through the process, Keclik said the biggest surprise was understanding “the intensity of what they are living with.”
Keclik said she has seen caregivers and family members of someone with dementia “come out in tears.”
Family members often feel isolated and don’t know how to ask for help in dealing with a loved one.
Treatment for dementia is focused on slowing down the symptoms and, after a certain point, medication is used simply to make the patient more manageable, Beville said.
Patients get ‘marginalized’
Beville said Alzheimer’s is the type of illness where sufferers do not have the ability to describe their own condition, so the group has been marginalized.
Beville, 60, said she started serving in the geriatric field in 1983 as a psychologist.
“I spent most of the 1980s ticked off at how (dementia patients) were treated,” Beville said.
After getting a Master of Science degree in clinical psychology, she moved away from patient care and into research.
Beville said in the 1990s she focused on how to change things and is now “about being pragmatic and measuring successes.”
In 2001, Beville said she donated the Virtual Dementia Tour to Second Wind Dreams, a nonprofit that she founded to change the perception of aging.
The proceeds from selling the method’s kit supports the organization in fulfilling dreams for the elderly community.
Beville said a local example of the group’s work was bringing a petting zoo to the Golden Living Center in Marietta.