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PLANO (CBSDFW.COM) – James and Faye Cunningham spent decades living life to the fullest in small town Texas. Now, the pair married 64 years last week, live in Plano at the Silverado Memory Care Community. Both are dealing with dementia.
“We’ve been staying here since last June,” says James as he shows off the couple’s room, heavily decorated with special mementos and family photos. The affable senior still has an outgoing personality.
But, his diagnosis becomes apparent as he chuckles about how his dad built the facility and his mother somehow sneaked in to decorate the room.
Now comfortable that they are safe and well cared for, family members admit that moving past denial was difficult.
“We see what we want to in our loved ones,” says daughter-in-law Suzanne Cunningham, “and we get stuck putting out the fires– as I like to say, ‘what do we have to deal with today?’ instead of seeing the whole picture.”
So while visiting the couple at their Plano community today, Suzanne took what’s being called the ‘virtual dementia tour’ to help understand that journey.
“It really brought home, not only the cognitive and the lack of memory, but what all of that has to do with the total process—just trying to get through the day.”
Participants put on thick gloves to mimic the loss of fine motor skills—skills needed for opening a pill box or fastening clothes. Goggles with vision obscured in spots replicated symptoms of macular degeneration, while headphones played distracting sounds to further confuse.
“This is just putting you in their path,” says Micah Grace, Silverado Memory Care Community, “in their shoes, so you can experience a little of that confusion.”
Once outfitted, participants are asked to remember an address and complete normally simple tasks without prompting—like plugging in a cell phone, folding towels, feeding a pet and taking the correct day’s pills. It was more difficult than many had expected.
And that understanding—that empathy—makes the exercise right on target.
“It’s non-stop, 24/7,” says Suzanne, “we get to do it for five minutes and we get to walk away from it. But, they do not get to walk away from it.”
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