An Eye-Opening Experience


What’s this scribble all about? [I mean the picture above, not my virtual scribbling in this blog!] This, I discovered today, is a representation of what it can be like to have dementia. As part of an article I will be writing for Podio PR1 magazine’s next issue, I was invited to try life with various cognitive and physical impairments for a short while this afternoon.

The main focus of the experiment was for me to wear different apparatus which would simulate age-related problems such as arthritis, stiff joints, visual and hearing problems. Before we set out, though, and with all my senses still fully functioning [ok, ok, that could be open to debate] I was offered the chance to have a taste of what dementia can be like.

It was a seemingly simple task. I had to draw between the twin lines of the star shape above – but in a mirror image of it. I started out quite well and thought ‘this is going to be easy’. Suddenly, though, I seemed to ‘forget’ how to do it. The lines, you will observe, suddenly start wandering back and forth in an increasingly manic-looking scrawl. The more my line went ‘wrong’, the harder I tried to get back in the shape, and the harder it was to do. Logically, I should simply have done the opposite of whatever I had been doing to get back again, but I just could not seem to be able to do it. It was as though my hand and brain had ceased to communicate in any meaningful way. I knew I wasn’t doing what I was trying to do, but for the life of me I could not figure out how to rectify the situation.

At first it seemed funny [of the ‘ha, ha’ type], then it got a little irritating, then I went from anger to terror to giving in, almost on the point of tears. Never being one to admit defeat easily, I decided to try again at a new point on the star, hence the separate area of scrawl half way down. This time my pen just seemed to wander aimlessly, no matter how much my brain was trying to direct it. Truly, this was a terrifying experience. I had the luxury of being able to say ‘ok, I can’t do it’ and opt back in to ‘normality’. In a real situation, this option is not there.

After this, we set out round Preston with me wearing the other apparatus, the point of which was to experience the town from the perspective of a person suffering from common age-related infirmities. The company, Kingswood Consulting, aim to encourage businesses and public authorities to realise that, with our ever aging demographic, more and more people will need their difficulties taking into account if they are to continue working, shopping and generally experiencing life as fully as possible.

Discussing it afterwards, I told Jane, from Kingswood Consulting, that it reminded me of a poem I wrote when I was still suffering quite badly with panic and anxiety; Invisible Wheelchair.  The problems I faced, thankfully temporarily, today were brought about by my wearing lots of strange-looking equipment and it was obvious to passers-by that I was impaired in my movement etc, but ordinarily none of these conditions would be apparent to others at a glance. Disability is not always obvious, but that does not make it any the less real.

Invisible Wheelchair

Can you see my wheelchair?

Why I can’t get through the door?

The obstacles that block me

From doing that much more?

How some things are so difficult

While I’m stuck in this thing

Yet I know you can’t see it

I need understanding.

Sometimes there is access

To where I want to go

But only I can find it

Only I can know

My wheelchair is all in my head

Not obvious to you

But terror, fear, anxiety

Keep forcing me, anew

To stay in here and battle

Do mental physio

To work my cerebal muscles

So I can stand and go

Wherever I would like to

No fears to stumble on

I long to stand and walk again

My mental wheelchair gone.

PS. I am, as the title suggests, still awaiting a good suggestion as to what to call this blog. If none are forthcoming in the next couple of days I am going to pick one in a very random way indeed….watch this space!


2 thoughts on “An Eye-Opening Experience

  1. Your ‘Age Confident session’ was certainly a powerful walk in the footsteps of an older person!

    The strong impact of this immersion into natural ageing and sudden onset of a few health conditions, more commonly associated with older age, was clearly evident from how you changed the way in which you engaged with your environment and others around you.

    Ageing is not, of course, an illness but it is universal and will affect each and everyone of us as we progress through our life course. Although some of us may have additional challenges from other health conditions these, and our age, should not become a reason we cannot participate in and contribute to daily life.

    With more of us living for longer than ever before our rapidly growing ageing society is a cause for celebration and an opportunity for all. I hope this kind of rich experience helps to show the opportunities there are to tear down the barriers that we (society / businesses / public services) have often created and build great Age Confident places that benefit everyone by increasing connectivity and engagement in the marketplace, the workplace and in the community.


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