A group of Overland Park police officers on Friday received a virtual lesson about living with dementia.
The officers donned glasses to blur their vision, thick gloves to hinder their dexterity, shoe inserts to make walking uncomfortable and earphones feeding them a disorienting cacophony of muffled voices and other sounds.
They were then instructed to perform a series of simple tasks.
“It was very eye-opening,” said Officer Debra Guieb. “It wasn’t easy.
The Virtual Dementia Tour training session was held at Morningside Place, a memory care facility in Overland Park.
The officers who took part in Friday’s exercise will share their experiences with fellow officers beginning next week. Overland Park plans to train all of its officers on how to better deal with people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
With an aging population, officers can expect to have more encounters with people suffering dementia symptoms.
The number of people in Kansas diagnosed with the disease is expected to increase 21 percent by 2025.
“With Alzheimer’s soaring, first responders will be coming into ever more contact with people with the disease,” said Peggy Hackett, executive director of Morningside Place.
Detective Keith Hruska was the first officer to attempt the exercise Friday.
He said he found it frustrating to do something as simple as pouring water into a glass.
Hruska said the experience was a good way to understand what other people might be going through, and how officers need to be more patient with them.
And while he and the other officers had only a brief taste of disorientation, he said people with the disease are living with it “ 24/7 .”
Guieb said that as soon as she began the exercise, she had already forgotten what she had been instructed to do.
She folded towels, struggled to put on a sweater and tried to remember what else to do before she sat down and said, “I’m done.”
“I could see how difficult it can be for somebody to do daily stuff,” she said.
Ultimately, she thinks the training will help both officers and dementia sufferers be more safe in their interactions.
“I think it’s important that the community and sufferers and their families know that we care,” Guieb said.