Tour offers insight into world of dementia

Burke O'Neil (left), who helped bring the Virtual Dementia Tour to Live Oak County, talks with Devin Smith before Devin's participation in the event at Live Oak Nursing Center. Both Burke and Devin are students at George West High School.

GEORGE WEST –Muddled thoughts, constant pain, blurred vision and swollen hands are just a few of the symptoms that were duplicated for those participating in a Virtual Dementia Tour on Wednesday, Jan. 15 that was brought to the Live Oak Nursing Center.

Exploring the impact that Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia on patients, caregivers and their loved ones was the aim of the simulation, which was brought to Live Oak County via the efforts of Burke O’Neil and Raquel Martinez, two George West High School students, as part of a school project.

During the tour, participants experience simulated impairments similar to those that people dementia continually experience.

Asked what the experience was like, one participant said, “It’s very difficult. Your senses are compromised.”

At least 30 people signed up to take the virtual tour, filling all available time slots.

Burke said he and Raquel, who both participate in Family Career and Community Leaders of American (FCCLA), called Cherish Alaniz at Live Oak Nursing Center and asked if she had any ideas for a project they could do in connection with the facility.

Alaniz suggested the Virtual Dementia Tour, created by Second Wind Dreams, an organization based in the Atlanta area.

Burke said he and Raquel “have worked so hard on this as a team,” although Raquel was sick the day of the event and unable to attend. Fellow FCCLA members and George West students Hailey Clayton, Harleigh Goebel and Richard Salazar also helped with the project.

“This is something tat hits close to me, because my grandfather and two of his sisters have dementia, so it runs in my family,” Burke said.

“We’re grateful to Cherish for suggesting this project.”

Alaniz said the opportunity to involve youth in understanding a concern like dementia — and offering the tour to the community — is something she is glad to have the opportunity to do.

“This is something I’m very passionate about,” she said. “I want people to understand dementia and learn about it, and for there not to be such a strong stigma about it.

“This was also a great way to capture the attention of the youth in our community and give them a better understanding of something that is so prevalent.”

Felipa Wilmont, family caregiver specialist for the Coastal Bend Area Agency on Aging, talked with people after they completed the tour. The organization she works for is based in Corpus Christi and serves 11 counties, including Live Oak, McMullen and Bee.

Her goal was to help people to understand the impact of dementia, and also to become aware of the resources available to help those who are coping with the disease — as well as those who care about them.

“If you don’t understand someone’s brain cells are dying and that affects every area of their lives and their ability to function, you might consider them to be lazy, stubborn or uncooperative,” Wilmont said.

“Being able to experience some of the things they go through is very eye-opening. It really changes your perspective.”

Those who are caring for people with dementia need training and education to understand dementia, and that’s something they often don’t get, Wilmont said.

“It demands so much attention, and often the caregivers suffer from self-neglect because they are so overwhelmed.”

The Area Agency on Aging offers a nine-week “stress busting” program to help them learn relaxation techniques and about resources available to help them.

Wilmont said support groups are available for caregivers. For those living in Live Oak or McMullen County, the closest one meets in Beeville.

There are also online resources and support groups available at

Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or