Expo encourages health care providers to pool resources

By Josette Keelor

WINCHESTER — Imagine not being able to hold a pen properly to write a letter, or having only a few fingers available for folding towels. Think how frustrating it would be matching socks with foggy vision, or following instructions you’re not sure you heard properly.

These are questions Julie Dellinger, nurse educator at Warren Memorial Hospital in Front Royal asked visitors to consider at Thursday’s Post-Acute and Long-term Care Expo in Winchester.

Patients with dementia can suffer from any or all of those symptoms, but caregivers who help them often don’t understand what they’re going through. The virtual aging experience in the dementia tent shows them what it’s like to have dementia.

“We started this last year, and now it was back by popular demand,” Dellinger said.

“A lot of facilities are sending their staff here for this today, on purpose, which is awesome. Because ultimately we want to make caregivers give better care to people with dementia.”

Participants wear rubber hospital gloves with popcorn kernels in the fingertips to simulate peripheral neuropathy. Simulating arthritis, they tape together the thumb and forefinger of the dominant hand, and the middle and ring finger of the opposite hand.

Eyeglasses project sight marred by glaucoma, and headphones blasting background noise make it difficult to hear instructions.

The instructions are simple enough: Write a letter to your boss, fold all the towels, fit a belt through a loop and sort three pairs of socks. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

“It’s been an eye-opener,” Dellinger said of those who had tried the experiment that morning. “It’s been a good reminder. They realize even in five minutes how hard it is.”

The background noise makes the tasks especially difficult for those who suffer from dementia, Dellinger said.

“They can’t just think straight. They don’t know what to do next a lot of times,” she said.

Dementia, which includes Alzheimer’s disease, affects patients in various ways. All types are eventually fatal.

“It’s a constant deterioration,” she said. “It’s essentially the brain is dying.”

“Eventually, they don’t know what to drink, they don’t know how to get dressed, they don’t know what a spoon is,” she continued. “When it gets very serious, … they literally forget to breathe. The body just doesn’t know to breathe.”

Vendors to Thursday’s expo for health care providers included the medical center’s metabolic and bariatric program educating on obesity awareness, a free group outpatient and caregiver Reiki program providing music, and the new Chronic Disease Resource Center.

Area home care services teamed to provide information to visiting health care professionals — Valley Health Home Health, Caring Angels, Livinrite, Virginia Health Care Service.

First Light, which also helped present the expo, cooks for and provides transportation for patients, and Palliative Care, under the umbrella of Blue Ridge Hospice, provides hospice-like care for longer amounts of time than traditional hospice care does.

The expo has grown since last year, said Mary Jo Whitacre, Valley Health’s director of resources and expo organizer. New information included care for stroke victims and therapy using Nintendo Wii video games.

The goal was to help visitors provide better care for patients by using the resources available to them and their patients, said Tina Shelton, coordinator of the metabolic and bariatric program.

“They know it exists, they just need the resources,” Shelton said.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com