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Stepping into the shoes of people with Alzheimer’s

Caregivers, family members and nurses of individuals with Alzheimer’s and Dementia gathered in the Bay Ridge office of Right At Home, an organization that deals with in-home service and assistance for the elderly, to learn more about the disease, and quite literally, step into the shoes of those who have it on Wednesday, June 29 as part of a “Virtual Alzheimer’s and Dementia Tour.”

Walter Ochoa, owner of the Right at Home Brooklyn offices, led an interactive presentation in front of 17 Brooklyn community leaders where he presented diagrams and explained the biology behind symptoms of Alzheimer’s, involving the group with interactive tasks.

He then chose two volunteers to experience the sensory symptoms of Alzheimer’s through special equipment.

Diving right into the demo, I was chosen as one of the volunteers and was given gloves that deprived senses in my hands, slip-in soles that made my feet feel constant pins and needles, goggles that blurred my vision, and a pair of headphones that made it sound as though I was in a loud, crowded room, making it difficult to hear.

I was brought into a room (in front of the audience of attendees), and was told to complete five different tasks by Ochoa. I felt stressed and nervous because I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, since I could barely hear him or even see my surroundings. I continued to stand and do nothing, until Paula Hayes, director of sales and presentation assistant, calmly took my hand and began to fold towels, signaling that I was supposed to do the same. I felt immediately more at ease. I never truly grasped the difficult time people with Alzheimer’s might have completing basic tasks until that very moment. The other volunteer had a similar experience.

This demonstration was meant to show how caregivers must treat people with Alzheimer’s, contrasting Ochoa’s stand-offish attitude and Hayes’ patience. The event left attendees with a message of: “We need to change,” meaning it is not the Alzheimer’s patients who must change their behavior, but the caregivers.

“I’m hoping with this event that once they listen to what we have to say and get to walk in their shoes, they’ll really understand what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s,” said Ochoa. “The idea is to change the attitude around people living with this sickness and what matters at the end of the day is how you treat another human being.”

Right at Home has 500 facilities throughout the nation, and is still continuing to do this presentation among hospitals and facilities allover New York. To learn more, visit rightathome.net.

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