Losing Time with Dementia


Time. Your loved one probably has a very hard time with time. You see, when you have dementia, you are no longer able to negotiate time.

Ten minutes can seem like an hour. A day can seem like a week. And looking at a clock, well, for me, is a waste of time.

To be able to understand time, you have to have a point of reference. It's like traveling on vacation and relying on those things we used to use called road maps.

To use a road map, no matter how well you are schooled on them, you must have a reference point. You have to know where you are in order to figure out where you want to be.

Time is the same way. There has to be something you can reference to know what time it is.

When The Ellen Show comes on TV, you know it's time to get ready to get your kids at school.

When your alarm goes off in the mornings, you know you can lay there for an extra ten or fifteen minutes and still be on time.

Days for a dementia patient run together. We can't tell one from the other. Most people know when it is Monday because yesterday you went to church, had a wonderful time with your family, or just laid around and did nothing.

Plus, it's the beginning of the work week. With dementia, there are no yesterdays. I have no idea what I had to eat for dinner last night, let alone the ability to tell someone what day it is.

The mind is a terrible thing to lose. And way before the end stage, we patients lose track of time simply because we no longer have a reference point.

Think about that. Very few people think about time, because it is always in the back of their mind. But imagine for a bit, you have no idea what day it is, what you did yesterday, or what you are supposed to do today.

That is how this disease works, and it's just one of the issues a patient deals with every day, all day long.

I do remember parts of yesterday, but only because something terrible happened.

Our granddaughter stayed with us the night before. As usual, I was up very early and got Phyllis June up later for work.

We sat here at the dining room table and had our coffee and tea just like we do every day. When it was time for Phyllis to leave for work, she told me, “Don’t forget to get Cortney up for school.”

I was supposed to wake her up at 7:45. At about 8:30, for whatever reason, it hit me. I had forgotten she had even stayed with us in just that short period of time.

Some will say, "I have done that” ...but the reality is we patients do these things all the time. It's just one thing after another. And it always involves forgetting something or someone.

Time. It's the one thing you lose as a patient. Time. It's the one thing we all want more of. Time. It is indeed our enemy...

Rick Phelps became an advocate for dementia awareness after being diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease in June of 2010, at the age of 57. He was forced into early retirement and created Memory People, an online dementia and memory impairment group which supports over 7,000 individuals, all touched in some way by dementia.

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Yes..time is what I have run out of with my husband.....his mind is as you've described and I have finally accepted I cannot trust he will ever recall what he has agreed to...even 2 secs ago......so since its just us and no family nearby and all friends are working...I will place him in an afh. Hes actually agreed to go because hes believing it would help me and he wants to be helpful. So im lucky and grateful he is cooperative in this way. So hard to watch him decline. He was a vibrant man and I love him so much. We've been together for 21 years and married for 20. I will always love him.
Rick, such a great article! Mom is having so much difficulty with time now, and your explanation and description of what time is like for someone with Alzheimer's is very helpful. Yesterday was one of those rare occasions when mom went shopping with me for my sister's birthday gift. Two short bus rides one way, maybe half an hour to 45 minutes in the store, 2 hours maximum. However, according to mom, we had been out all morning and spent hours in the store. She even converged our upcoming trip to my sister's in another town with the shopping outing and thought we were coming back from there. She has no concept of what day it is, even when I tell her. She has it in her mind that it is, usually, Sunday or Saturday. Even when I show her the 24 Channel with the date, day and time, she is unable to process that information. As you say, no point of reference. Is there anything that helps orient you to time? What are the most helpful and least helpful things we can do to someone with Alzheimer's as grounded as they can be?
This article is so very true-- know one realizes that a dementia patient
lives in their mind ( what ever comes to mind at that very moment)
My sister has Alzhiemer & every time I visit she says the very same thing( I see you are getting fat) I could lose 30 lbs & she would still say the same statement.Itease her & say ( I see you have not got any fatter) LOLShe only weighs 90 lbs .When she began getting sick she was 140 lbs.
She remembers me when I was a teen and weighded 97 lbs.
hershort term memory is gone.She can't remember tree days ago.She knows me
because she sees me all the time.She does not ever talk about her friends any more.A sad disease to have.