New technology is giving Saint John nurses a feel for what it’s like to live with dementia by allowing them to experience the disease using virtual reality.

The Virtual Dementia Tour is a sensitivity program designed to help simulate what it’s like to live with dementia.

Students and faculty in the nursing department at UNBSJ took part in the program on Wednesday.

“We’re trying to recreate, as best as we can, what a person who is aging and has dementia, what they must feel like, what that environment is like for them, the loss of sensation, hearing, and visual loss,” explains Dr. Linda Yetman.

In a dark room designed to be a disorienting environment, students and faculty are expected to perform routine tasks.

“I just felt so abandoned and left alone,” says nursing student Kaitlyn Assadpour. “It was a little frightening because I thought I was going to fall and I couldn’t believe I was told to do these things.”

“Trying to get the pen to even recognize if it was on or not, I think I broke the first pen I had because I couldn’t get it turned on,” says faculty member Kathleen Mawhinney.

Nurses are now more likely than ever to be called upon to care for someone with dementia, which requires certain medical skills.  More than anything, it requires empathy.

“For me it’s that reminder, because we take for granted when we’re in the workplace, you know, when you ask someone to do something, that they’re going to be able to do it,” says Mawhinney.

The Virtual Dementia Tour was developed by a U.S.-based non-profit group to sensitize students to the challenges of dementia.  It will be included in the UNBSJ nursing program this fall.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Mike Cameron