Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes: A Dementia Simulation

By Meghan Radman, 2015-2016 Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps Member, Georgia Mountains Health

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Community HealthCorps builds healthy communities by bringing awareness of dementia.

At Georgia Mountains Health, I serve as a Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps member on various projects. One of my roles involves leading healthy aging education and activities so that older Americans can live in their own homes.

For AmeriCorps Week this year, my Community HealthCorps team partnered with Heartlite Hospice to participate in an Alzheimer’s Virtual Tour at our local senior center. The tour was a simulation that demonstrated what it’s like to live with dementia and perform daily activities.

I helped guide 18 seniors through the simulation during the event. To start, I strapped them into foggy glasses, put headphones that emitted static radio on their heads, added spikes facing up in their shoes, and taped massive gardening gloves to their hands. Then, I gave them instructions to walk into a dark room and complete several simple everyday tasks like setting the table, pouring a glass of water, folding laundry, and turning off the TV.

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A couple of seniors who participated in the simulation.

As the seniors exited the simulation, their reactions were priceless. Some of them were laughing and having a good time, while others were disoriented and frustrated. They talked about how altered their perceptions were with the goggles hiding their peripheral vision, the shoe inserts giving them a pins-and-needles sensation, and the headphones making them feel as if they were in a bubble. I will always remember one woman in particular who was in disbelief of how difficult dementia can make day-to-day life. She was so grateful to have participated in the simulation, saying to me:

“Now I finally understand what my mother had to go through.”

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Meghan prepping to go through the simulation.

Seeing how this event changed the seniors’ perspectives encouraged me to try it! Walking through the dementia simulation was an eye-opening experience; I forgot tasks to do, I was distracted by the background noises, and I couldn’t use all my senses to the fullest. I finally caught a glimpse into how frustrating it must be to have dementia. I am so grateful for my Community HealthCorps service. I have truly been able to grow and learn about the challenges older adults must strive to overcome sometimes, better suiting me to help someone with dementia live a healthier, happier future.

 

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The Test

By Joshuah Creswell, 2014-2016 Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps Member, Ryan/Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center

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Josh at his HIV testing station.

As a Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps member, I had given this test a few times before. I gave it in vans, churches, schools, and other odd places. This day, I was in a drugstore one block from Times Square. I stood at the door handing out flyers to passersby. I figured it would be a bust – too many tourists with shows to see and buses to catch were bustling through their day. It seemed futile to ask these people to set aside 20 minutes for an HIV test.

Flyer after flyer, I smiled and greeted people as they walked in. After a couple of hours spent explaining to people that I didn’t work there and did not know what was on sale, I needed to sit down. I switched places with my teammate and waited in the testing room for a willing participant.

Not long after I situated myself, a young man finally walked in. He was well mannered, attractive, and probably around twenty years old. He politely smiled and took a seat to start filling out registration paperwork. “It’s great that you guys are here today doing testing,” he said to me more than once. “Well, we get around. We test all over the city. It’s important to go out to the people and offer this service. Many people don’t know where to go,” I responded. “Or they are scared to go,” he added. “Very true,” I explained, “but it’s important for a person to know their status. That way, they can get the care they need if they are positive.”

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Josh providing HIV education at a health fair during National Health Center Week 2015.

I started by asking some preliminary questions: “Would you hurt yourself if your test came back positive? Would you hurt someone else? Have you had any drugs or alcohol today?” These questions were simple but ones that not everyone answers ‘no’ to, signifying that the results could put them in danger. Fortunately, this young man did answer ‘no’ to everything, and I felt confident in giving him the test. I performed the simple finger prick to collect blood and started the clock on the test. Now came the part that always made me nervous – what do I do with the next 15 minutes while we wait for the results?

I began going through the counseling questions to take up some of the time. When I looked over at the young man, his head was down, his hands were on his knees, and he looked somewhat uncomfortable. “Have you been sexually active in the past 12 months? How many partners? Have you had sex without a condom?” I asked, noticing his face express increasing anxiety with each question. I could see what was going on in his mind. I had seen many people in this situation. He came in to take the test but had not really considered his risk factors until this moment.

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Josh performing the finger prick HIV test.

“I’m sorry; I’m just really nervous. I hadn’t really thought about it until now that this could happen to me. I really did some stupid things,” he said while shaking and out of breath. I paused from my questions, put down my pen, and made eye contact. “Well, you’re doing the right thing today by getting tested. Whatever the results, you will be in a better position knowing your status. And it’s good to be aware of the times that you put yourself at risk, so you can learn from that and take more precautions in the future,” I explained earnestly.

There were seven minutes left. I provided some education on HIV and prevention, like that a person with HIV can live a healthy and long life if they follow through with treatment. All the while, he glanced periodically at the test as if it were a judge about to hand a sentence and reprimand him for the things he had done. With five minutes to go, we chatted about a concert he was going to attend (in an attempt to get his mind off of the running clock) and occasionally revisited our discussion regarding the potential consequences of the test result.

Finally, the test was done. He had stopped shaking by this point; he was more eager than afraid to know his status. “Your results are neg…” Before I could finish, he exhaled a sigh of relief and leapt up from his chair. “Thank you so much! I just want you to know that I was really nervous for this, and you made it a great experience and kept me calm. I learned a lot. I’m not scared to get an HIV test anymore, and I’ll be more careful in my life,” he said as he shook my hand. Although we only spent 20 minutes together, we will remember each other for a long time. His test went well. And my test – to serve as his source of support and empathy no matter the result – did too.

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Josh with his 2015-2016 Community HealthCorps teammates in NY.

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Every year on June 27th, we honor National HIV Testing Day—an observance to promote HIV testing and the importance of knowing your status. An estimated 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, and 1 in 8 people who have HIV don’t know it. Find a testing site and take control today.

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Community HealthCorps Addresses Asthma through Education

By Kellie Hall, Program Specialist, NACHC-Community HealthCorps, with stories from Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps Members, Monserrat Oropeza & Jibreel Oliver

Throughout the month of May, we honor Asthma Awareness Month—an initiative dedicated to increasing awareness about asthma control and the disease’s impacts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 13 Americans are affected by asthma. This lung disease can cause people to miss school or work days, contributing to the $65 billion each year it costs the nation. Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps members serve to foster people’s potential, particularly by empowering communities across the country through health education. In recognition of Asthma Awareness Month, we are highlighting two Members’ stories to show how they help to address asthma-related issues for health center patients.

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Monserrat showing off her Program Site’s tagline: We are family.

“I am an Asthma Home Visitor, helping patients that have asthma understand how to self-manage their condition. Many of the families that I visit don’t realize the various factors that can affect a person’s health. One family I have worked with over the past year has been striving to make their home healthier for their daughter. She has too often experienced severe asthma attacks sending her to the hospital. It got to the point that her mother became very concerned and asked me what she could do to alleviate her daughter’s symptoms.

After educating the family about asthma irritants found around the house, they removed the carpet, replaced the couches and windows, gave away their cat, and tried to keep the house dust and pollen free. With all these changes, the mother has seen a significant improvement in her daughter’s health—she no longer has symptoms that require emergency assistance and understands how to manage asthma symptoms at home! The mother told me that she was very grateful for the information I provided. Seeing how I have made a difference in these people’s lives is inspirational; I am so honored that I could help build healthy futures.”

-Monserrat Oropeza, Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps Member
2015-16
Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic Team
Yakima, WA

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Jibreel with the Community HealthCorps National Director and DCPCA team.

“I serve with the Asthma Intervention Team at Health Services for Children with Special Needs to prevent and reduce hospitalization resulting from asthmatic symptoms. On the Friday of my first week, I accompanied an Asthma Care Manager to a pulmonology appointment. The goal of the visit was to make sure the patient was compliant with his medication and aware of the behaviors that can cause his asthma to flare-up.

While the patient wasn’t completely following his asthma care plan, he had made tremendous strides in the right directions. The care manager told the patient how proud of him she was and encouraged him to continue in the right direction, helping me realize that health center patients have many obstacles to overcome when trying to make healthy choices. It is never as simple as the patient forgetting to take their medication or being totally unwilling to follow the plan–maybe transportation barriers make it difficult to get their medication; maybe they have an untreated comorbid condition that makes it tough to follow their care plan; or maybe there are things in their lives that are so stressful that they just need someone to talk to. Whatever the reason, making sure they know you are there for them is key to building the relationship and their trust.”

-Jibreel Oliver, Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps Member
2015-16
DC Primary Care Association Team
Washington, DC

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