Is losing track of time a symptom of dementia?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom loses track of long term time. She lost a purse at the store 2 weeks ago and said it was 1 week ago. Swears to it, even though her receipt said otherwise. When I ask questions, she becomes irratated. Is this old age or dementia? She said she would be at my house in 30 mins. ad showed up after 1 1/2 hours and never mentioned why she was late. When I asked her if she got compny after she talked to me and that's why it was 1 1/2 hour instead of 1/2 hour, she said, why am I late? She is a heavy smoker and forgets when people come to visit and smokes anyways. I will do a favor for her or hand her something and she looks at me as if to say, WHat? My birthday is on Xmas and we always celebrate it on xmas. last xmas at 930 at night she jumped up and said omg! I almost forgot your birthday. We don't receive cards from her anymore either. Last night she called 3 times b/c she said her tv wasn't working and when we drove over tonight, it was on. She never called to say don't come over to fix the tv, it's on or anything. so unlike her to be like that. She was always very on the ball and always very polite with her actions, words and manners. Now, we are seeing a total transformation. She was confused when we got there, as if to say, why did you come over tonight? She asked my husband if he was coming over to mow the lawn. WHen he told her he would do it on Monday. ???? very concerned. Thanks for your attention,

Expert Answer

Deborah Cooke is a gerontologist specializing in dementia, delirium, caregiving, and senior fitness. She is a certified dementia care provider and specialist through the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Cooke currently manages several multidisciplinary programs to enhance well-being for hospitalized seniors and other vulnerable patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. She also serves on the board of NewYork-Presbyterian's Patient and Family Education Advisory Committee. She has 18 years of experience working with the aging and caregiver communities.

Hi. I hear your frustration very clearly. It sounds like you do have some real and very valid concerns.

Memory loss is not a normal process of the aging experience. This may very well be dementia. Since dementia is a slow progressing, chronic process, many loved ones do not see it happening until it becomes very obvious and patterns are created. However, there also are other reasons that contribute to these behaviors.

I strongly encourage you to take your mother to a doctor. They can better identify what may be going on.

In the meantime, patience is a virtue. Seek support. Air your frustrations appropriately (not with or in front of her). Take deep breaths. Go for a walk. Smell the flowers. Listen to the birds. Take time for yourself.