Holy Name Medical Center offers glimpse into life with dementia

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

High school student, Christian Cabral, and NJTV News intern, Jane Collins, found out what it’s like to have dementia – the disorder that robs usually older people of memory, thinking and abilities to do daily functions.

At Holy Name Medical Center’s Institute for Simulation Learning, Cabral and Collins wore headsets with sounds to distort their hearing, sensors in their shoes to mimic tingling in their feet and put on bulking gloves to warp their sense of touch. They also donned special glasses to alter and impair their sight.

Each were given specific tasks to perform.

Cabral entered the room and went for the pile of laundry on the couch and put on a green scarf. He labored to set the table for two and struggled to make out a headline on a magazine to write down three words.

By now, Jane had entered the room, put on a sweater and walked across the room to find prescription bottles with security tops. Her task is removing the tops, taking out the pills and separating them in to a daily pill box.

She seemed to write and pour water with ease.

“So how did you feel going through the simulation?” Lori Podlinski, manager of simulation learning at Holy Name Medical Center, asked Jane.

“I felt really disoriented,” Jane responded.

“I got very confused of where everything is,” Cabral added. “It was hard to see, and then all the noises. And the things inside my shoes were very uncomfortable.”

“And frightening,” Jane chimed in again. “When you know what you’re doing is going to be over in ten minutes, that’s kind of a relief. But imagining what that’s like for somebody all the time and maybe not even being aware of what’s wrong with them, it’s scary. It helps me understand better what dementia patients are probably going through.”

Holy Name says that’s the point of the simulation, usually meant for caregivers.

“Especially dementia patients, the elderly, they’re more challenging to take care of, so we want the caregiver to empathize with the patient, basically. That’s what this is about,” Podlinski said.

Researchers of an international study say dementia is the greatest global challenge for health and social care in the 21st century. But, they conclude, dementia is not an inevitable consequence of aging. They cite nine ways to cut the risk of developing it: increase education, exercise and social activity. Also, stop smoking, manage hearing loss, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

“It’s what we call a correlational study,” Holy Name Medical Center Neurologist Dr. Thomas Kriebich explained. “So it’s just looking at outcomes. It’s not telling us about what might be causing the problem.”

Dr. Kriebich treats patients with dementia. He calls it frustrating. He says right now some medications can slow the progress of dementia but they don’t stop it or reverse it and there’s no known cure. Dr. Kriebich says proper diet and exercise are thought to be helpful. He strongly encourages patients to challenge their thinking and memory, and for others to heed the study’s recommendations.

“I think some of the modifications at this point seem reasonable to make and seem like they would benefit other aspects of your health as well. So, smoking cessation, avoiding high blood pressure, obesity, these are all things which have other benefits in terms of your health. I think it just reinforces the idea of, sort of, trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle is important for your general health and may play a role in helping prevent dementia.”

The Lancet study’s authors say modifications can prevent one in three cases of dementia in a world with 50 million who suffer from the disorder, a number that is expected to triple by the year 2050.