Dementia Walk helps caregivers relate to loved ones

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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Life with Alzheimer's can sometimes feel isolating when others can't relate to your everyday challenges.

Now, local caregivers are getting new insight on their loved ones' struggles.

No one knows Pat Carmichael better than her husband of 55 years, Ron.

And yet as her caregiver in this new life with Alzheimer's, he often finds himself at a loss.

"Yeah, a lot of times honey, you can't finish sentences, and I'm trying to figure out what you're saying, you know? Those are times we have difficulty," Ron said as Pat nodded.

And Ron is certainly not alone.

"She'll just say, 'Forget it, don't even worry about it.' And that's frustrating just because she just can't get more words out," Ron said.

Dannis Murphy organized the Dementia Walk at the Terraces Senior Living complex in Phoenix where the Carmichaels live.

It uses special tools to give families and caregivers the chance to get a glimpse of how it really feels to live with Alzheimer's and dementia.

You're given glasses to distort your vision, spiked shoe inserts to simulate neuropathy, bulky gloves and a headset playing random background noises like muted conversations interspersed with sirens and ringing phones. 

"It confuses your brain enough to think you have dementia," said Murphy.

You're given 10 minutes to complete five tasks.

"Find the pants and put the belt through the belt loops. Match up four pairs of socks. Clear the dining room table. Count out 37 cents in change and put it in the change purse. Take one pill out of one bottle and two pills out of the other," Murphy explained to employee Kaila Hassler. 

"If you forget any of these tasks, there is a list on the wall," Murphy said. 

Hassler's been working with dementia and Alzheimer's patients for almost six years.

She says this was a game changer.

"It really opened my eyes to dementia and what it's like," Hassler said. "It takes over all the senses."

And Murphy agreed.

"It's very realistic," Murphy said. 

[SPECIAL SECTION: Life with Alzheimer's]

He said most people going through the experience for the first time tell him it gave them a whole new perspective.

"Dumbfounded is a good word. They're just like, 'Oh my God, I had no idea,'" Murphy said.

I went through the same drills and only managed to finish three of my tasks.

The audible interruptions distracted me from my mission, and I found it very tough to concentrate, remember what I needed to do, and the gloves added another frustrating level of distortion not being able to easily grip and handle things. 

"You were repeating yourself a lot in there," Murphy observed. 

He said one of the biggest takeaways is learning to keep things simple when you're trying to communicate with anyone who has dementia or Alzheimer's.

"I'm not going to tell them five things to go into a room to go get. I'm going to tell them one simple task at a time," he said. 

And that's why he hopes to get everyone on staff at the Terraces to go through this, and not just the licensed caregivers.

"The housekeeper, the maintenance guys, the cooks, the waitresses," Murphy said.

Hassler agreed. 

"Every one of our team members should go through it to just relate to them more," Hassler said. 

"I think it's going to help me really understand that they have a purpose. And even though they can't communicate it to us, they have some kind of purpose, something they are trying to do or accomplish or look for," Hassler said. 

And just that perspective alone might make all the difference in your patience, approach, and outcome.

"Wouldn't it be nice for me to understand exactly what you're going through when you're having difficulties?" Ron asked. 

"Yeah," said Pat. 

Ron is looking forward to going through the Dementia Walk soon.

Because while this disease means one day Pat might not know who he is, each day, he is doing his very best to hold onto who she is too.

We are following the Carmichaels for a year as they openly talk about their life with Alzheimer's. 

Ron and Pat's daughter is also blogging to share her perspective. Click here to read her latest blog," Trying to understand her world."

Click here to register for the Phoenix Walk to End Alzheimer's on Saturday, Nov. 12, at Wesley Bolin Plaza:

And click here to learn more about the next Dementia Walk. 

Copyright 2016 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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Nicole CritesNicole Crites anchors "Good Evening Arizona" weeknights 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m. on 3TV with Brandon Lee.

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Nicole Crites

The two- time Emmy award winner has been telling stories about Valley newsmakers and trends for more than a decade. Before joining 3TV's "Good Evening Arizona" team, she was the morning news anchor at KPHO-TV in Phoenix.

Nicole loves meeting new people every day and finding ways to bring context to news unfolding in our community and our world.

A wife and mother of two little ones, Nicole is always exploring Arizona to uncover exciting adventures to share. She grew up in a big family, one of six kids in Tucson.

She graduated from the University of Arizona. Work and early internships took her from Manhattan to Spokane, WA, back to Arizona, where she and her high school sweetheart settled to start a family.

Nicole loves to read and keep busy with community service and crafts, like quilting baby blankets, something her mom taught her in elementary school.  

Nicole's passion for storytelling and helping others is why she got into journalism.

She won an Emmy for her field anchoring of the deadly Tucson shooting and assassination attempt of then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and another for her KPHO "Keeping the Promise" series on military struggles and success profiles.

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