Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI)
Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI)

With an estimated 5.8 million Americans currently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the Community College of Rhode Island is increasing its efforts to provide caregivers and healthcare professionals with a better understanding of how to treat individuals diagnosed with dementia.

With support from the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services Health System Transformation Project, CCRI purchased the Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT), a groundbreaking instructional program that offers users a glimpse into the daily lives of those suffering from all forms of dementia through the use of patented sensory tools and instruction. CCRI is the only college in the state of Rhode Island to offer this technology.

For the first time, CCRI is offering free VDT demos to the public to better understand what loved ones suffering with dementia endure on a daily basis.  The demos will be offered at all four the college’s campuses:

June 11 – Flanagan Campus (1762 Louisquisset Pike, Lincoln), 12pm – 4pm

June 18 – Liston Campus (1 Hilton Street, Providence), 9am – 1pm

June 21 – Knight Campus (400 East Ave., Warwick), 12pm – 4pm

June 25 – Newport County Campus (One John Chafee Blvd., Newport), 11:30am – 3:30pm

The free demos, facilitated by CCRI nursing staff, take approximately 30 minutes. Individuals interested, must pre-register here:

“Our elderly are just growing exponentially. They’re going to be our largest population, so we really need to understand their specific, complex needs,” said CCRI nursing professor Donna Ashworth, one of the faculty members trained as a facilitator to administer the tour.

The goal of the Virtual Dementia Tour is to help those treating or living with individuals with dementia to develop a better understanding of what they endure on a daily basis.

Since the facilitators want users to experience the tour without having prior knowledge of what to expect, the specifics are kept under wraps, but the premise is simple – the technology is designed to alter the senses to the point where completing basic tasks and following instructions becomes difficult and frustrating.

Wearing sensory-altering items, participants are led into a dimly-lit room and are given a list of everyday tasks to finish within a short timeframe, but with impaired vision, hearing and sensation, most find it impossible to complete all of them – or, in some cases, any – in such a short amount of time.

Throughout the tour, many users unknowingly exhibit some of the telltale signs of dementia, from shuffling aimlessly around the room or staring blankly at specific objects, unsure of what they’re supposed to be doing. They become disoriented and confused.

As a result, some will just do what comes natural; several faculty who participated in CCRI’s trial run of the software remember seeing a pile of clothes on a table, but because they couldn’t fully hear the instructions at the start of the tour, they began folding the laundry, assuming that’s what they were asked to do. That type of impulsive reaction, is a common characteristic among those suffering with dementia.

“We can’t cure the dementia,” Ashworth added, “but we can make their lives more capable by being more understanding.”

The Community College of Rhode Island, New England’s largest community college, enrolls nearly 20,000 students and an additional 8,500 individuals in workforce development programs and adult education courses annually. CCRI also provides transportation education and certification to 14,000 Rhode Islanders each year. Classes and programs are offered at CCRI’s full-service campuses in Warwick, Lincoln, Providence and Newport, online and in partnership with the Westerly Education Center. For more information, visit