It was several years into Mom’s dementia journey when her difficulty with time perception really became evident. I’m sharing what I noticed about Mom and suggestions for you to try with your loved one.

Clock background with the words What Day is it? Dementia and the perception of time

Dementia and Time Confusion

Do dementia patients have trouble with time perception? Yes.

Why? That’s beyond the scope of this post and way more scientific than I care to get into but let’s just say in way simpler terms – it’s all those neurons/synapses that are being destroyed by the plaque of Alzheimer’s.

What time perception problems my mom had

I moved back home to live with my mom in the fall of 2011. You can read more about her here.

That’s when her memory issues were really starting to be noticeable, the doctor was noting increased memory loss, and I was concerned about Mom living by herself.

In the regrettably few notes that I took about Mom’s journey, here are a couple incidents involving time that I experienced with her.

In March of 2013 I was awakened by a call at 2:45am from Mom. She wanted to know when I was coming home. She had been waiting for me.

Obviously she didn’t remember that I had been downstairs talking to her around 11:15pm before I went to bed. (To this day, I still marvel over this incident – she was able to get my cell phone number somehow which was a feat itself! and call me but she couldn’t remember seeing me several hours earlier!)

One night in April of 2016 around 10:45pm Mom asked if I was going to eat some lunch.

I remembered thinking that it was hard to believe that she was asking me to eat lunch when it was dark outside.

What Day is It

This was a question I heard soooooooo many times. I also heard, “What’s today?” many, many times.

Mom was an avid reader of the daily paper. There was a time when she would read 3 different papers a day. At the point when her memory started to decline we were down to 1 paper a day. Mom would take all day to read the paper. I think each time she looked at the paper it was as if she hadn’t seen it before.

I know she would check the paper to see what day it was.

But that doesn’t mean she would remember what day it was!

I finally went out and got a whiteboard. Not sure when exactly I did this but I know that I had it around in late 2014. On this whiteboard I would put Today is at the top then each day write what day it was.

A whiteboard on a stand with the date and a note of an appointment written on it

I would also include a note if Mom had a doctor’s appointment that day or if she was going out to lunch or if one of my brother’s was going to be there over the weekend.

I put the whiteboard on an easel that Mom had in the kitchen right by the kitchen table. That was where Mom spent most of her day. She enjoyed sitting at the table looking out the back windows at the birds and squirrels.

The plan was that whenever Mom asked me what day it was or what’s today, I could just refer her to the board to check. It helped…..somewhat!.

The Clock

In March of 2016 I got Mom a clock like this pictured below on the left. That helped. Kinda! I put that on a cart by the back kitchen windows close to the whiteboard and would refer her to the clock when she asked me what day it was.

A clock showing the date, day of the week and the time
an Alzheimer's Day Clock sitting on a table

My brother got Mom at Christmas one of those day clocks, pictured above on the right, that only tells what day of the week it is. It’s round like a clock and has a “clock hand” that points to the day of the week. I believe that only got Mom more confused and she didn’t look at that clock very often.

The day clocks now are available with the addition of the time of day qualifiers like morning, afternoon and evening.

If you’re going to go with one of the day clocks, I would strongly suggest that you get it early on in the dementia journey so your loved one can get used to looking at the clock. Hopefully!

Even though the clock would tell her the time and whether it was am or pm, there wasn’t the understanding that hours between 8am and 12pm were morning, 12pm to 6pm were afternoon and after 6pm meant evening. Mom didn’t have that anymore. She wasn’t able to understand that if the clock said 8pm and it was dark out, that meant it was evening.

So, would having the words morning, afternoon and evening on the clock matter in that case? Yes, I’d like to think it would.

Your loved one with dementia gets easily confused and is “lost” in the world. At least having the words morning, afternoon and evening kinda gives them an idea of what part of the day it is.

Looking at the clock may give them some reassurance. At least until the point where the memory loss is just too far along.

One other suggestion. Some clocks are available with white on black background or black on white background and some have colored frames. Your loved one might be able to see one of the colors better than the other so you might want to test color perception out before you think about buying one of these clocks. Now you can also get the one model above on the left that has the red, white and blue to break up the print. 

Seasons

The concept of seasons didn’t mean anything anymore. Mom always loved fall and winter.

There was no longer the connection that knowing it was November meant fall or that January meant winter.

Therefore, she wasn’t cognizant of having to wear a heavier coat when it was colder or dressing in more layers. These were things I had to make sure she did.

Did the time change matter or affect Mom in any way? No.

Picture of clock on wall with caption What Day is it? Dementia and the perception of time

Dementia stages and time perception

I feel that Mom’s loss of time perception was a gradual process over time so it’s hard to pin it down to an exact stage.

Back in 2008 is when I noticed the hint of the repeated questions. We do not know when Mom’s memory started to decline in the first place so this is all just a guess.

I would say roughly from about 2012 on is when it really started to decline. That would put her in about the middle stages of Alzheimer’s.

Do Alzheimer’s patients have a sense of time?

I would say no. I believe that’s why Mom was always asking me the time and date.

Remember, that every dementia patient is unique and will go through stages differently. What is in this post reflected what I noted about my mom’s handling of time and her time perception. This is just one more reason why Alzheimer’s is so insidious.  

For additional information:

Telling the Time When You Have Dementia