Review: The Dementia Simulation House

Today we have a special guest blogger. It’s Drew Dotson, who was a visiting scholar at the University of Northern Iowa this spring. While in town, she had the opportunity to do the dementia simulation house. Here is her review!

Dementia Simulation House: “It was good!”

“How was it?” people asked after learning I’d visited the University of Northern Iowa’s Dementia Simulation House. 

I enthusiastically responded, “It was good!”

What followed were looks of confusion, as though I meant I had a good time experiencing what it’s like living with dementia. However, when I described the simulation as “good,” I meant that it was interesting, eye-opening, and impactful. From my point of view, any opportunity that gives you better insight into another person’s struggle is meaningful — and that’s precisely what the Dementia Simulation House accomplishes.

I won’t get into too much detail about the actual simulation experience because it’s best if participants are unsure what to expect. The experience takes place in what’s designated your house, and it involves some general household upkeep. Therefore, it’s not as though you’re merely sitting around, existing while experiencing certain symptoms of dementia. Instead, you’re actually living a snapshot of daily life with dementia — a much more realistic approach.

During my session, four participants went through the simulation at the same time. After our experience ended, we all sat down together for a post-simulation debrief. This was a revelation in and of itself because I’d been so engrossed in the simulation that I forgot I wasn’t on my own — maybe similar to feelings of isolation among those living with dementia. Though each participant had a unique experience, one theme was common throughout: the anxiety associated with the loss of control.

Interestingly, each of the session’s participants had previously spent time with a family member living with dementia. For me, that person was my paternal grandmother. We all agreed that the dementia simulation provided insight we wished we’d had as we navigated the unfamiliar territory with our loved ones. I wanted to rewind time and have my entire family participate in the simulation so we could have better supported my grandmother as her dementia progressed. We did the best we could at the time, but I now feel better prepared for future interactions with people living with dementia.  

The Dementia Simulation House taught me more than I could ever learn reading or watching videos. Why? Because it made me feel something. Information on dementia is helpful and gives us insight into what we can expect. However, the simulation enabled me to personally experience emotions that might be common among those living with dementia. As a result, I exited the house with an increased level of empathy and compassion for those living with dementia — things that make me a kinder person.

That’s why I answered, “It was good!”

Drew uses her experience with chronic illness, widowhood, and humor to inspire and uplift others through her writing. You can read more about Drew and enjoy her work at drewdotson.com. She has also written a memoir that is in the early stages of the publishing process.

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