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SEE IT: New virtual reality technology allows you to experience what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s disease

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 2/3/2020 By Thomas Tracy, New York Daily News

A new virtual reality tool is allowing people to step into the world of an Alzheimer’s patient so they can see how difficult everyday life can be — even doing something as simple as brushing your teeth.

With the help of a VR headset and a three-minute video, one can step into the world of “Harry,” a 76-year-old retired veterinarian and widower living with mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Harry suffers from hallucinations, mistakes toothpaste for another medication, forgets to shut off the sink and is constantly confused about what time it is.

The 360-degree headset will help users experience the special disconnect and sensory impairments that an Alzheimer’s disease or dementia sufferer experiences, said Christy Littlefield, an education program specialist and social worker with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Manhattan office.

“The video is based on the common symptoms we see in our work every day,” Littlefield said. “And this is just a glimpse of the symptoms he’s suffering from.

“Now everybody can experience what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. “We hope it can start conversations about patient care.”

Harry was compiled from real-life case studies, but every Alzheimer patient suffers in different ways, Littlefield said.

“Each person experiences dementia a bit differently, but we picked a lot of the common scene,” she said. “Folks who will watch and are caring for people who suffer from Alzheimer’s will relate to some features of it, which will hopefully create more conversations about what was covered in the video.”

Probably one of the first things someone will notice is that none of the clocks in the room are showing the same time, which shows the disorientation that some suffers face. After a few moments, the birds on the shower curtain come alive and fly off.

Littlefield hopes the VR experience will help caregivers, family and friends better understand the Alzheimer’s sufferer.

“When we launched it, we received different reactions,” the social worker said. “Some people were sad or upset because it reminded them of loved ones, but it gave them a good understanding of what it’s like to live with this disease.”

“We hope the empathy builds patience, so people think of their own experience when they deal with Alzheimer’s suffers,” she said.

Anyone wishing to participate in the VR Dementia Experience can visit the AFA website at alzfdn.org or call 800-232-8484.

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©2020 New York Daily News

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