SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Springfield Technical Community College students looking to enter the healthcare field had a hands-on experience in the classroom Thursday.

The Massachusetts Senior Care Association reported over 6,500 vacant positions in healthcare facilities across the Commonwealth, making the training and preparations for the next group of healthcare workers more important than ever. Students in the occupational therapy program at Springfield Technical Community College taking part in the ‘Dementia Experience’.

“It’s a dementia simulator to help individuals what it’s like or might be like to have dementia.” Stephanie Schellenger – Dementia Program Director, Memory Support of Heritage Hall

The training is organized by Memory Support of Heritage Hall, a care facility in Agawam. Students perform daily tasks with sensory modifications, which someone with dementia would experience. Wearing earplugs, taped fingers under gloves, and wearing glasses that impair vision, makes filling out a check, sorting cards or using a wheelchair difficult.

“So even the simple task of organizing some silverware back into the tray was extremely difficult and we don’t think about that. I don’t think about that when I’m emptying the dishwasher, so it was really interesting.” Jennifer Boggs – Student

Jennifer Boggs was an accountant before she was drawn to work in the healthcare field. She returned to school and is preparing to graduate from STCC in the spring. Boggs said the training opened her eyes to the challenges those with dementia face.

“It gives us a better idea so that we can again be much more sensitive to their challenges and needs while we’re working with them.” Jennifer Boggs – Student

The demand for trained professionals entering the workforce is at an all-time high.

“As our population increases in this country, we’re really seeing a greater and greater need for skilled professionals.” Laurie Cecchi – Assitant Professor STCC

One in 10 Americans over the age of 65 suffer from some form of dementia. In just five years, the demand for staff in this area of care alone is predicted to increase by over 19 percent.