A Distorted Sense of Time

  All Alzheimer's Symptoms

When it happens

Any stage

Why it happens

Cognitive changes distort the ability to keep track of time. An hour can seem like five minutes; five minutes can seem like an hour.

What you can do

  • Be patient. Your loved one might ask you repeatedly, "What time is it?" or might grow anxious or clingy if you leave the room or are out of sight for several minutes.

  • Know that it's futile to argue or say things like, "But we just got here!" or, "I was only gone for two minutes." Better to answer calmly and provide time cues as described below.

  • Make sure clocks are visible in every room your loved one frequents (digital clocks are usually easier to read). This may temporarily reduce anxiety early in dementia. But eventually it will grow harder for your loved one to track passing time.

  • Try setting a timer when you have to leave the room -- to go do laundry in the basement, for example. "I'll be back in ten minutes, when the bell rings." When you return, be sure to make your presence known.

  • Try to always be prompt or early -- don't stay away or out of sight longer than you said you would.

  • Check in periodically when you're both around the house, so you're not out of sight for too long.

  • Keep a large calendar in a central area where you can record appointments. Review it in the morning (and as needed through the day) to reassure your loved one that he or she won't miss any important events.

  • Try to stretch out the visit with a distraction when you're out in public and your loved one insists, "I want to go home" after five minutes. You can say, "Just a few more minutes . . . we're about to hear some music/look at some pictures/have some coffee." Realize, though, that if your loved one grows more agitated, the simplest course may be to try again another day.

  • Structure the day around a solid routine. The predictable flow of activities -- meals, a walk, TV time, nap, so on -- will help your loved one mark the day.