How do you cope with time confusion in dementia patients?

Tomagirl asked...

H ow do you cope with time confusion? my husband thinks it's hours and it's only been 10-15 mins. therefore we can't go any where that takes more than 15 mins or he becomes agitated. Please help.

Expert Answer

Helene Bergman, LMSW, is a certified geriatric care manager (C-ASWCM) and owner of Elder Care Alternatives, a professional geriatric care management business in New York City. She consults with nursing homes and daycare programs to develop specialized programs for Alzheimer's patients.

Alzheimer patients often become disoriented to time. Despite being able to read the clock, they may ask repeatedly what time it is and, as you said, misperceive the 'passing' of time. When they leave the house, they may immediately want to return or when waiting just a few minutes at a doctor's appointment, they may complain they have been waiting for hours. These behaviors indicate misperception of reality and may be amenable to treatment. Firstly, caregivers need to expect this type of reaction and identify what type of response works. This behavior indicates anxiety so you can speak to that by asking him if he is worried about being out and then reassure him. Sometimes reality orientation works (i.e. telling your husband that it has just been 15 minutes) but you will be asked again. Sometimes, writing what time you went out on a card he is carrying (we left at 11am) might help if he can then compare to his watch time. If reassurance and distraction are ineffective, your flexibility when his anxiety escalates is crucial; thus, you need to be ready to leave the restaurant, the theater or a friend's home. Other caregiver adaptations include scheduling appointments and events at times when the patient is less anxious. Of course, you could consult with your physician for an anti-anxiety drug (or a low dose of an anti-psychotic) that might take the edge off of the agitation. The goal is to identify what works best to ease his discomfort and enable you to maintain a daily schedule of activity with him.