Stepping into the mind of a long-term care resident living with dementia – LRI Internship Series

This post is written by two of our Baycrest Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation in Long-Term Care (LRI) summer interns, as part of a reflective series. Read about the interns’ experiences on Twitter by following #LRIinternship2015. Check out the first and second articles in the series. 


Dementia has been identified as a complex disease that can be challenging for healthcare providers and caregivers. Apathy, amnesia, agnosia, anosognosia, altered perception, apraxia and aphasia are terms used to describe the symptoms of this disease. Although these medical terms and definitions serve as effective diagnostic and screening tools for healthcare providers, they may also limit our ability to see past the diagnosis of dementia to understand the human experience. It is common to hear someone say, “Oh, they are just old,” as a way of justifying an elderly person’s behaviour. Unfortunately, we often generalize the experiences of the elderly and fail to recognize their individual experiences.

How can we educate others about different symptoms of dementia? How can we increase empathy of young healthcare professionals towards individuals with dementia? These are questions that the two of us, as LRI 2015 summer interns, asked ourselves. We have both taken courses at the undergraduate level and have been exposed to different aspects of aging. Even with our academic experiences and interest in geriatrics, we were in search of a tool that would enable us to ‘walk in the shoes’ of older adults with dementia.

iStock_000012395773MediumAn effective way of creating empathy and understanding is to experience another person’s perspective. A simulation can create a near-reality experience for the participants and expose young healthcare professionals to the challenges of living with dementia. Our work toward a dementia simulation attempts to do just this! Over the past five weeks, we have been working alongside our project mentors at the CLRI and Rotman Research Institute to develop a simulation for the symptoms of dementia. We believe that education and awareness of the symptoms of dementia will serve as a tool for increasing empathy and improving the interaction between care providers and individuals with dementia.

Please stay tuned for our future posts on the simulation project progress. In a few short weeks, we will share a short video about our colleagues’ feedback on our simulation exercises.

—Baycrest CLRI 2015 Summer Interns, Tina Felfeli, M.D. Candidate Class of 2019, University of Toronto; Kira Feldman, M.Cl.Sc. Candidate Class of 2017, Western University