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Virtual Dementia Tour puts staff in patients’ shoes

21 November 2019

Michelle Hewer, Michelle Metcalfe and Hannah McKee outside the tour bus

An unusual tour bus designed to put NHS staff and others in the shoes of people living with dementia, has visited the Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI).

The ‘Virtual Dementia Tour’ by ‘Training2care’ was organized by Dianne Smith, Dementia Matron for University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT), to give staff an insight into dementia and build even greater empathy with patients.

Hannah McKee, Community Nurse for Long Term Conditions, Michelle Metcalfe, Assistant Practitioner for Long Term Conditions and Michelle Hewer, Community Matron for Long Term Conditions – all based at Slyne Road in Lancaster – found the tour surprising and enlightening.

All three said they felt extremely vulnerable, uncomfortable, isolated and unsure of what to do during the tour. They were surprised that they couldn’t hear properly, their eyesight was restricted and insoles with spikes on them made their feet hurt.

Flashing lights on the bus

After the tour Michelle Metcalfe said: “I just wanted a hug! The experience makes you feel so alone.

“We all thought it was really beneficial in terms of the work we do with people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. We were all on the same page. It opened up our eyes to what people really go through. When you experience it yourself you can understand why people are behaving in a certain way. We found out that people with dementia often shuffle because their feet are sore and that it’s better to talk to a person face-on because their peripheral vision can be impaired.

“We are always patient and our job isn’t rushed but the training has given us a fresh view of everything. Even though we have an understanding, we don’t always fully know what a patient is going through.

“We all need to stop and think about the care we give. I would highly recommend the training to other people.”


Thirty six members of Trust staff went on the Virtual Dementia Tour in Lancaster and bus has also visited Furness General Hospital in Barrow and Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal. A total of 108 members of staff have completed the training.

Sharon Tyrell, a Governance Manager for UHMBT, said: “I had heard about the Virtual
Dementia Tour in terms of it being a real sensory experience.

“I didn’t know much about dementia and I wanted to know more. When we went on the bus we weren’t given any information and I thought the trainer was quite rude. However, this was deliberate because the trainer wanted to show us that the way you speak to a person with dementia is very important.

“It was really disorientating. We didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing. We couldn’t see or hear properly. We knew it was going to be over in a few minutes but for people living with dementia there is no end to it.

“It was unnerving, frustrating, a bit scary and incredibly thought-provoking. It has made me more mindful to actually step into the world of a person with dementia; to experience their reality.

“I used to work in a nursing home and it has made me want to do something along those lines again. I’d like to be able to support people in those positions.”

Dementia Matron, Dianne Smith, said: “I think the tour has given our staff even greater empathy for people living with dementia and will enable them to provide an even higher level of care.”

Tony Waller, a trainer from Training2care, added: “Basically, we give people dementia for nine minutes by using equipment that is clinically proven to work. It gives people a better insight into how people live with dementia. We do lot of training about the brain. It really opens your eyes to how people actually feel. Anyone can do the training, including family members.

“The training helps staff to look after people with dementia. It shows that if you approach a person with dementia in a negative or aggressive way it can have a very bad effect. No matter who you are, it’s always better to be kind, respectful and have a smile on your face.”