Frightening but also fascinating insight into dementia
A brutal wall of psychedelic noise battered my ears and everything was blurred out as searingly bright lights exploded all around me.
It was like stumbling into a terrifying blacked-out war zone with deadly threats coming at me from every angle.
My head was spinning, I was totally confused and disorientated.
I was clinically stripped of everything I knew back in my world and plunged into a fast-swirling world of chaos and turmoil.
Above all else it was the devastating babble of noise jack hammered in to my head that almost knocked me off my feet.
And it was one of the most petrifying ordeals of my life.
I had crashed in to the dark surreal world of people living with dementia.
And the eight-and-a-half-minute nightmare - which seemed more like eight and a half hours - gave me a uniquely frightening but fascinating, spectacular insight into their lives.
The turbo-charged life-changing session was staged by Bluebird Care at their offices in Wharf Road, Stamford.
The leading homecare and live in care agency had invited me along after bringing in the Mobile Virtual Dementia tour bus last Thursday.
Bluebird Care Peterborough and Stamford director Leisa MacKenzie said: “This training is unique as it gives you the chance to walk in the shoes of someone living with dementia. It’s very exciting and this is a big day for all of us because we care for so many people who have dementia in this area.”
Leisa added: “You can start to understand the many different issues they experience every day.
“You will experience being confused, isolated, lost, intimidated, vulnerable and much more and therefore understand what you need to change to improve quality of care.
“The Virtual Dementia Tour is the only scientifically and medically-proven method of giving a person with a healthy brain an experience of what dementia might be like.”
Wondering what lay ahead I was plucked out of the room along with two Bluebird carers, Samantha Drysdale and Philippa Courten, as part of the second group to go into the tour bus.
The deeply-disturbing ordeal began as soon as we trooped up the three steps into the back after we had signed a medical disclaimer.
John Sanders, 56, who masterminds the whole sinister operation, didn’t tell us his name, didn’t smile and rudely ordered us about as if we were naughty children or prisoners.
He tersely told us to put spiky plastic insoles into our shoes and promptly put giant clumsy gloves on to our hands.
I nervously asked John about what we were set to face but he refused to say a word making us even more edgy as the temperature in the Spartan bus plunged to sub-zero.
He then gave us special goggles to put on and clamped headphones over our ears before taking us into the virtual reality dementia box.
We were instantly bombarded by an incredibly intimidating racket blasting through our ears while it was almost impossible to see in the murky darkness through the glasses.
Everything was foggy as explosive disco-type lights flashed off the walls and the floor, while I could just about make out spooky darkish shapes just feet away from me.
My entire range of senses were being assaulted from every which way as I tried to work out where I was, what I was doing and even who I was.
The savage sensory onslaught was crushing and overwhelming as John ghosted up out of nowhere and whispered in my ear: “Find something useful to do.”
I immediately said out aloud: “Just what the hell can I do in here?!”
I groped my way towards what appeared to be a sink and draining board through the all-pervasive gloom and clung on quickly turning it into my little refuge from this utter madness.
“Tidy up the cups and plates,” instructed John.
Easier said than done with the mammoth oven gloves on but given something I could finally focus on I gave it my best shot in an attempt to restore some sort of order.
To my immense frustration and disbelief John casually wandered over and messed them all up again.
Refusing to be intimidated I defiantly piled up the plates and lined up the cups in a desperate bid to keep busy, fight the sheer fear of being trapped in there and try to return to my ordinary reassuring everyday world.
Every second was a battle to stay sane in this hellhole as the ear-splitting din being slammed through our headphones was suddenly spiked by 999 sirens blaring out along with pneumatic drills and other devastating detonations.
The sudden explosions replicated the non-stop screaming noise people with dementia are hammered by every day.
“Write a letter to your family,” rapped John.
I was battling to manhandle my notebook out of my jacket pocket along with a pen when he shouted “time’s up” and brought the eight minutes of pure terror to a shuddering halt.
The lights flickered on and only then did we see that the three people subjected to this heart-stoppingly realistic horror show before us had stood in the corner watching our every clumsy move.
A window was curtained off while there was a bed lining one wall and a table festooned with cushions on the opposite side.
Never have I been so glad and so relieved to stagger out of a bus as with all my senses swimming and my brain twisted inside out I staggered out into the rain gulping in the fresh air.
Succinctly and powerfully John put our entire blood-chilling experience into stark perspective: “You’ve just experienced what it’s like to have dementia for eight minutes.
“People who have this horrible condition have to live with it for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“They cannot just walk away from it - for them there is no escape.”
All of us who took this tour will treat people challenged by dementia with new respect and even more patience and understanding for the rest of our lives.