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Orbit hosts virtual dementia experience

Disorientating and distressing are just two words used by staff at Orbit to describe how they felt as they fully immersed themselves into a world of dementia.

Orbit recently hosted a ‘Virtual Dementia Tour’ event for staff and customers to simulate the experience of living with dementia.  Participants gained a physical and emotional understanding of what it might be like to live with the disease on a day-to-day basis.

Facilitated by Training2care, the Virtual Dementia Tour is a hands-on experience that uses gloves, headphones and special glasses to distort participant’s surroundings and recreate the emotions felt by people who with dementia. Over 30 people took part in the eight minute experience and their reactions were powerful.

Alison Smith, the daughter of an Orbit customer living with dementia at one of Orbit’s independent living with care schemes, took part in the experience. She says; “All of your senses are taken away, it’s stripped away from you without any warning. It was tough to come to terms with how it felt. I realise now how important it is to have support, someone to hold your hand and guide you.”

Daphne Arnold, Customer Service Centre Process and Policy Manager who works with customers in Coventry, says: “Because we interact with customers from all walks of life, it’s important to have an understanding of different people and different requirements individuals have. The experience made me feel anxious and out of control. I found simple tasks difficult. I now understand the importance of how my own actions impact our customers and what I can do to be more helpful.” 

Orbit estimates that there are almost 3,000 Orbit customers living with dementia, with as many as 2,292 living in general needs homes and 542 living in sheltered accommodation. As dementia progresses, people become increasingly vulnerable and able to live less independently without high levels of support. This is often accompanied by increased reports of disruptive and abusive behaviour and concerns over health and safety. The person living with the disease also often feels rejected, socially isolated and lonely.

Orbit part funded a Dementia Support Worker initiative in the Midlands to help staff working in Orbit schemes better support customers living with the disease. Several of Orbit’s staff members have also been trained as Dementia Friends, through the Alzheimer’s Society.

Orbit has also helped pilot a Chartered Institute of Housing/Stirling University toolkit to train housing association staff on how to support people living with dementia. This toolkit is now being rolled out to housing associations across the country and will help housing officers and support workers spot symptoms of early dementia and signpost customers and their families to additional support and resources as required. 

The experience was featured on BBC Midlands Today and BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme.