A new virtual reality program is being integrated into some senior living communities, giving staff and family members the chance to walk in the shoes of those living with dementia.

Nearly six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  It can be challenging to care for a loved one with a condition you can’t relate too.

“They’re talking at you or around you, but not talking to you or trying to understand what it is your doing,” said John Gramkee. “That’s very difficult.”

Gramkee lost his wife to dementia last year and continues volunteer work at St. Johns in Rochester. The senior living community adopted the program to better assist those in the building living with the condition.

He said if he knew then what he knows now, he would have been able to better understand what his wife was going through.

“Sometimes she would get in the car and it would take me 30 minutes to get her out of the car. I didn’t know why,” he said. “Was she not hearing me or understanding what I wanted her to do? Now I think maybe it was a part of the dementia, but I didn’t know it at the time.”

The VR program takes the viewer through the early, middle and late stages of dementia.

“I couldn’t do anything. They gave me a math problem, showed me a pencil and asked me to pick it up and I couldn’t pick it up. They talked to me, but the background noise was such that I couldn’t understand what they were saying and I’m sure that’s what dementia patient’s experience,” he said.

By the year 2050, the Alzheimer’s Association predicts the number of American’s with the disease will rise from 5.8 million to nearly 14 million.