It isn’t often that a person can truly walk in someone else’s shoes, especially when that ‘someone else’ has dementia.

A new concept could give people a better understanding of this debilitating disease.

Patricia Johnson, a certified nursing assistant for St. John’s Home in Rochester, has been working with seniors for years — many of whom have dementia. 

But it wasn’t until she got a glimpse of what that actually felt like that she truly understood. 

“Confusing… it’s like everything was brand new,” said Johnson. “Now that I know what people with dementia go through, I mean I knew a little, but you learn more when you’re in their shoes.”

Johnson volunteered to be part of a virtual dementia training program by Second Wind Dreams. 

St. John’s Home administrators encouraged this exercise so staff could really empathize with those they care for.

“Really think about as employees, what can I do to decrease the disability by changing the environment, by changing the way that I interact with people,” said Johnson.

In the simulation, workers wear headphones, gloves, and glasses meant to impede their senses and then they are asked to accomplish otherwise easy goals. 

“Staff are kind of marveling at how hard it is to even do a simple task like writing a list or putting a belt on,” said Johnson. “They can’t do it because there’s so much going on all around through this experience.”

Johnson says she only got one of the tasks correct during the exercise and says walking in the shoes of someone with dementia will change how she interacts with them going forward. 

“I’ve been doing this for some years so I do focus on them, but their vision is narrowed so we need to stay right in front of them and speak so they know what you’re saying,” said Johnson. “You’ve got to take that time and have that patience.”

Hundreds of thousands of people in Monroe and surrounding counties are impacted by dementia every day. It’s on the rise due to a growing elderly population in Monroe County.