LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - When a loved one is facing a disease it's often hard to fully comprehend what they're going through. You can sympathize with them, but you don't really know it's like to walk in their shoes.
I recently had a chance to experience what someone with Alzheimer's is facing through a virtual dementia tour. It was truly eye opening. Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia. My great grandmother was diagnosed with it, but I had no idea how incredibly frustrating it is to live life this way until I took part in the tour.
We were introduced to Brenda and James Loy. The Loys been married for 53 years, but over the last five years Brenda Loy said James Loy has become less like the man she's known.
"My husband's a retired Methodist minister. He never had to use his notes," she said. "He was valedictorian of his class. When all this began to happen it was very traumatic."
James Loy started showing signs of Alzheimer's. He would forget what he was doing, sometimes he would put on two pairs of pants and he often complained that noises were too loud.
She said her husband would day to her, "Brenda, if you could only know what's going on in my mind. What's happening in my head."
Brenda Loy would get that chance, thanks to the virtual dementia tour.
First, gloves with kernels were put on our hands and some of our fingers were taped together to mimic what someone with arthritis would feel like. That's because someone with Alzheimer's often experiences the other signs of aging as well.
People with Alzheimer's lose the ability to screen out sounds. We put on goggles that affected our ability to see and we were given headphones that fed a constant blur of noises into our ears.
"You're going to learn where frustration, agitation and anger comes from," said Carol Galloway, with Allegro.
Brenda Loy and I were put in separate dark rooms and told to do simple tasks.
Once in the room I felt immediately lost. I couldn't even decipher any of the instructions
The loud noises, especially a sudden siren, caused me to jump. The constant sounds made it almost impossible to concentrate and I desperately wanted to turn it off.
I was instructed to put a belt through a pair of pants loops, but because I couldn't get my fingers to move right, that was also difficult.
Brenda Loy was just as confused in the nearby room and immediately broke down in tears. At one point she was inside of a closet and didn't realize it until she felt the hangers.
She described the sensation as feeling like every receptor wasn't working. She finally understood what her husband's recent years have been like.
"He'd say 'I don't want any noise on , lights on' and I didn't understand. And sometimes I may have been negative because I didn't understand that he was experiencing what I just experienced," she said, close to tears.
It's estimated 5 million people have Alzheimer's, which is not a normal part of aging.
It is devastating for the individual as well as their caretakers, like Brenda Loy.
"(The simulation) opened my eyes in a good way for me to see, but in a bad way to know my husband deals with that every day and there's not a thing you can do about it. You just have to let it run its course," said Brenda Loy.
Recently she and their children made the difficult decision to move James Loy into Allegro.
Brenda visits James every day remembering their moments together. She said her husband likes it when she sings to him.
While the experience was very personal and hard for Brenda Loy to share, she said she wanted to do so. She hopes talking about her pain will help raise awareness about Alzheimer's.
Allegro will be hosting another virtual dementia tour in August. For more information, click here or call Allegro at (270) 765-4414.