Many elderly people and those with memory issues, for example those living with Alzheimer’s disease, tend to have trouble with keeping track of time. I wondered why this is and decided to do a little bit of research on it. The answers I found varied from very wordy scientific papers to a simple “I can’t remember what time of day it is” - this from someone living with dementia. (see links at the bottom of the page)
The human brain is extraordinary. With the ability to place ourselves in time, we can plan and imagine things in the future, and we can remember and learn from our past experiences. Few animals have the ability to do this, and none can do this to the extent we humans can.
But when the connections in our brains no longer work well, this amazing ability can disappear. When something we may have taken for granted all our lives leaves us it is no wonder confusion, irritation and frustration arise.
What my findings boiled down to is this, when we lose the ability to remember things, we no longer have an anchor to hold on to which indicates where we are in time. We have no reference point to start from. If we can’t remember what we did yesterday, or even our last meal, how can we pinpoint our place in time right now.
So without an easy answer, what can we do to help?
What do I mean by time confusion?
All of us occasionally lose track of time. This can be a little annoying but we generally can put ourselves back on track pretty quickly.
But for some being able to know if it is time for breakfast or time for dinner can become increasingly challenging. Not knowing what day of the week it is can be an easy mix-up to have. But for those with memory issues, this may become a regular problem and it can be hard to keep track of what season it is too.
Those with more severe memory loss, may also not remember how old they are, and that past loved ones are no longer with them. Older people may believe they are still teenagers or young adults. This time in their lives may have the clearest memories for them as their brains were young and healthy.
Who may be suffering from time confusion?
Brain injury, disease, illness or just aging can cause problems with our memories.
Not being able to remember what day of the week it is does not mean you are developing or have a form of dementia. It may be you are not on a particular schedule, so you don't necessarily need to know what day of the week it is. This can easily happen when you are on holiday, or have been unwell.
Being a little bit unclear on what day of the week it is because a person is not working or having regular appointments does not mean you should start to worry. It may not be as important for someone to know exactly what day it is all the time, but if this starts to make the person feel confused or anxious, then it is something that needs to be addressed.
Feeling distressed about not knowing where they are in time can cause changes in mood such as irritability, irregular sleep patterns and depression.
Other health issues, such as infections or even dehydration can affect memory, so it’s always a good idea to have a checkup if you have concerns.
Sudden onset of memory loss or confusion may indicate an underlying health issue and immediate medical attention should be sought.
Medications can also affect memory. It would be a shame to put up with something that a simple change of pills could correct.
How can we help someone who is feeling lost in time?
If the cause is unknown a checkup for any underlying health issue is a good idea.
Having regular routines can help someone with mild or severe confusion about the time. Routines that move from one activity to the next helps people feel a sense of security. Also taking extra time and care to explain what is happening though the day and why.
Getting outside during daylight hours when possible is a great thing to do, especially in the morning. Open curtains and let natural daylight inside as much as possible.
Another good idea is to give clues in the day as a reminder of the time. Using language that places them into the right time and day e.g. “It’s time for our Tuesday morning walk”
Think about lighting and noise levels as evening approaches, this can help people shift more easily into nighttime routines. Turn to quieter activities in the evening when a person may be starting to tire. But it's a good idea to wind down, not to just stop all activity suddenly.
Caffeine and sugar can also confuse people's natural sleep and wake cycles so limiting these, especially in the afternoon can help.
For those who may sometimes loose track of what year they are currently living in, it's important to listen and address concerns. Rather than correcting and dismissing their timeline, engage in it with them. Never tell them a loved one they are asking about is dead, ask them instead where they think they are. Always let the person lead the conversation as they may not be consistent with their thinking and introducing more information may just confuse them more.
Have a clear simple clock that they can easily see.
Why a traditional clock face may not help.
Someone with cognitive issues may find it difficult to work out what the numbers on a traditional clock face mean. They may also get confused about day and night and not be able to differentiate, for example between 4pm and 4am.
A clock face has often been used as one of the tests in diagnosis, as the logic needed to interpret a clock can be affected by types of dementia.
How a Digital Day Clock Helps.
A Digital Day Clock that displays not only the time, but also the time of day, the day of the week, and the date really is going to help with all those questions someone with memory issues has.
At a glance a person can see if it is morning, afternoon or night, and right then they can feel a sense of reassurance that they know where they are in the day and the week.
Our Mindjig Day Clock is very simple with no other markings or buttons on the front to cause confusion. You simply plug it into the wall and it’s good to go.
This is a great idea for helping people with memory issues maintain a sense of independence and dignity.
As I have said before, I use this digital day clock myself. Sometimes if I've been lost in my work, the phone rings and I have no idea what part of the day I am in. A quick glance at the clock sets me straight. It's amazing how quickly people grow to love their clock, check out our reviews - Julie
See more about Mindjig’s Digital Day Clock
• If you are interested in some deeper research on the subject of Time confusion: Time distortions in Alzheimer’s disease: a systematic review and theoretical integration.
• And here’s a perspective from someone living with dementia: Losing Time with Dementia
If you have any thoughts or maybe new ideas for products you would like to see, please get in touch.