UNI dementia simulation house only one of its kind

The University of Northern Iowa's gerontology program has been running the only dementia simulation that takes place in an entire house in Iowa. In fact, Professor of Gerontology Elaine Eshbaugh, who has made the house her passion project, has never heard of another simulation happening in an entire house anywhere else.

Usually, dementia simulations are transportable, getting torn down and set up from one location to the next. Since 80% of people living with dementia live at home in the community, the residential setting of this simulation is more realistic. With UNI being home to the state's only four-year gerontology program, the location of the home is fitting, as it gives students who hope to work with the aging population a chance to experience what it's like to live with dementia.

Dementia House

Eshbaugh isn't running the house alone. Another key individual who has kept the simulation up and running is Megan Zimmerman, the home's community liaison who works for the Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging. The home has become a tool Zimmerman uses as she educates community members on dementia. Zimmerman is also a UNI alumni who graduated with a degree in gerontology in 2020.

"People with dementia are directly and negatively impacted when people around them don't understand dementia," Zimmerman explained. "So when you make sure that people understand dementia a little bit more and just some basics of how to communicate with someone with dementia, it really improves the quality of life for people with dementia."

Zimmerman said there is no shortage of misconceptions when it comes to dementia, starting with the fact that dementia is more than memory loss. For example, it may impact someone's motor skills and ability to focus, which the house helps simulate.

"The most rewarding thing is when someone says, 'Oh, it makes sense why my mom does that now'," Eshbaugh explained. "They thought it was just random behavior, but the house helps them realize it isn't."
Up to four guests may go through each 45-minute session. Eshbaugh said the sessions are continuously full, bringing in 30 to 40 people each week.
If you would like to support the dementia simulation house and the gerontology program at UNI, you can donate here. You can also check the house's calendar for session openings.