'Virtual Dementia Tour' Leaves Participants Frustrated but Sympathetic

This cacophony helps induce a chaotic mental state, similar to what many dementia patients experience.

Once the participants are all geared up, the experiment begins. Test administrators read a set of instructions to the participants, giving them five simple tasks to complete -- set a table for four, brush your teeth, fold some laundry, etc.

Even this is not as straightforward as it sounds: Test administrators intentionally read the instructions at the same volume as the "confusion tape," so that it's hard for subjects to even decipher what they are supposed to be doing.

Son of Alzheimer's Sufferer Says 'I Couldn't Imagine Living Like That'

Cynthia McFadden of "Primetime" agreed to try out the Virtual Dementia Tour, and joining her was Blane Wilson, whose mother, Lawanda, is fighting an ongoing battle with Alzheimer's.

McFadden was given a seemingly simple task -- find a white sweater -- but she said she couldn't help being distracted by the incessant noises coming from her headphones. In order to stay focused, McFadden said, she had to start talking to herself.

"Honestly, the thing that shock[ed] me the most is that I couldn't remember five simple instructions," she said afterwards. "It changed my understanding of what people with dementia face every day.

"I mean, I'm the queen of multi-tasking. I can do anything, I can do 20 things at once, I'm a mom, I'm a, it's very humbling," she said.

Wilson, who was unable to clear a table of dishes or successfully find a tie, was similarly frustrated by the experience.

"It's a deep sense of confusion. It's unbearable. ... I couldn't imagine living like that," he told "Primetime."

Impeded by limited motor skills, blurred vision, and the incessant buzz of distracting noises, participants, like McFadden and Wilson, often exhibit behaviors that mirror those of Alzheimer's patients, Beville said. They become frustrated with their inability to perform what they know are simple tasks, and unless they get help or guidance, they often resign in anger and defeat.

The experiment has helped caregivers better understand the plight of their loved ones, a crucial weapon in the fight against Alzheimer's.

Beville said she has administered the Virtual Dementia Tour to more than 10,000 professional caregivers, and has identified specific ways of improving care for a person with Alzheimer's.

She said that offering positive reinforcement and encouragement is essential for any caregiver.

In several of her experiments Beville provided guidance by offering a pat on the back and saying, "You're doing great." By repeating this every four minutes, she found that the person remained calmer and was able to accomplish all of the tasks that were assigned.

By learning how to better cope with the effects of Alzheimer's, caregivers and family members might feel more equipped to manage and treat a loved one who is diagnosed with the disease," Beville said.

"It is a way of giving people hope," she said.

And in the battle against Alzheimer's, a little bit of hope can go a long way.

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Do you want to know more about Alzheimer's symptoms, risk factors, tests or treatment? Visit the ABCNews.com OnCall+ Alzheimer's Center to get all your questions answered.

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