Health Care

October 16, 2013

Training puts Oxford care facilities staff in shoes of those with Alzheimer’s, dementia

Put on a sweater. Fold the laundry. Write a letter. Set the table for dinner. Pour a glass of water.

Put on a sweater. Fold the laundry. Write a letter. Set the table for dinner. Pour a glass of water.

For most people, those tasks are easy.

But for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, they can be nearly impossible.

Jason Wiley and others at Oxford Senior Living are trying to teach staff members that accomplishing even a small task can give a person a sense of purpose and pride.

Wiley, chief creative officer and co-founder of Oxford Senior Living Community, requires his staff to participate in Alzheimer’s simulation training.

“If you work here, you’re going to interact with our residents at some point, whether you’re a housekeeper, maintenance man, the cook or direct care coordinator,” Wiley said.

“It’s really meant to create a sense of empathy and understanding. We can’t possibly know what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s or dementia, but the closer we can come to putting ourselves in their shoes, the better caregivers we are.”

After two days of classroom training, staff members go through a program designed to help them better understand residents. The program, called Virtual Dementia Tour, is developed by Second Wind Dreams, based in Georgia.

Participants don gloves, yellowed goggles with spots that simulate macular degeneration, uncomfortable shoe inserts that poke the foot and headphones that have random noises, like whispering and a ringing telephone.

Then participants are directed to perform a series of tasks in an apartment setting in a certain amount of time.

“Components of the natural aging process, on top of the confusion and issues associated with Alzheimer’s, are compounded,” Wiley said.

Halfway through the simulation, they put another person in the room with a different set of instructions to illustrate how the experience takes away a person’s social tendencies.

“Almost without fail, you put two people in there, and they don’t talk or interact,” Wiley said.

Wiley observes the staff members as they complete the tasks and then debriefs them as a group.

“While there is merit in the experience itself, the education really comes afterward in the debriefing and discussion and learning from one another’s experience and sharing that experience,” Wiley said.

“It really opened my eyes,” said said Kari Tovar, registered nurse care coordinator at Glen Carr House who recently went through the program.

“I’ve always felt like I was a pretty compassionate and empathetic person, and it’s completely changed my view of how I’ve approached different situations in helping residents and helping their family, (and) our care staff give the right type of care. You learn about yourself.

“It was really emotionally disturbing to feel that out of control and you feel really vulnerable. That’s a difficult feeling to know the people I see every day don’t feel that for a couple of minutes, but they feel like that every day, all day.”

Wiley said Oxford has allowed others to experience the training as well, including some family members of those with Alzheimer’s and other health care providers.

Other Oxford communities include Oxford House Home-Plus Senior Care at Broadmoor and The Oxford Grand, Assisted Living & Memory Care Community at NewMarket.

Glen Carr House in Derby, which is one of Oxford’s communities, is named after Wiley’s grandfather, who had Alzheimer’s.

Oxford is getting ready to open its latest house and is hiring additional staff members. For more information, visit

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