SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Students in two STCC programs – Occupational Therapy Assistant and Physical Therapy Assistant – participated in the Dementia Experience on Nov. 3 during Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.

They wore gloves, donned eyeglasses with obscured lenses, put on headphones and used other sensory modification tools to better understand what it’s like to live with dementia.

“It immersed us into what someone with dementia is likely going through,” said PTA student Jennifer Boggs. “We need to understand that, and  we need to be respectful, cognizant and considerate of that.”

She said tasks many people take for granted like organizing silverware in a tray or writing a check became exercises in frustration. “It was extremely difficult, and we don’t think about that – I don’t think about that when I’m emptying the dishwasher. It was really interesting.”

Students took direction from Stephanie Schellenger, the dementia program director for Memory Support of Heritage Hall, a Genesis HealthCare facility in Agawam.

She created the class after seeing residents with dementia struggle with tasks such as sorting, getting dressed or moving around in wheelchairs.

Schellenger said more than 6 million people have Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. A growing number of people are being diagnosed at an earlier age, she said. At the same time, there is a shortage of caretakers. The OTA and PTA programs prepare students to work in healthcare facilities, including nursing homes where professional occupational and physical therapists help residents, including those with dementia. Students are all in demand for well paying positions after earning an associate degree, said PTA professor Renae Gorman.