“How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss

Time is precious.  Time is fleeting.  Time, the way humans use it, is an artificial construct.  We measure time so we can make an effort to control our use of it.  Humans have used mechanical clocks to measure time since the 14th century.  Before that we used other devices, like sundials, water clocks, or hourglasses.  And before that we used rocks – Stonehenge, for example – and nature – sun, moon, stars, leaves, etc.

We measure time for many purposes, some valid, some less so.  One must be 18 years of age to vote or join the armed services.  One gets paid based on how many hours one works.  One starts school between the ages of five and six years old.  We set arbitrary start times for work and events so that everyone involved is on the same schedule. 

Time to a dementia sufferer (DS) is far less precise.  The loss of short-term memory and skills such as reading a clock or a calendar reduce time-telling to a nearly impossible chore.  One of the early symptoms of dementia according to the Alzheimer’s Association is “Confusion with time or place”. (https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/10_signs)  This symptom can manifest in so many different ways according to the habits, schedules, and personalities of the DS that examples would be too many to list. 

The DS frequently loses the ability to read an analog clock and even a digital clock may offer them few clues as to what time it is (according to a clock).  A DS can also lose the ability to decipher a calendar of any sort.  In addition and perhaps most frustrating of all, is that the DS loses track of time in the sense of how much time has passed.  He thinks you have been gone all day when you only left for an hour or so.  He doesn’t realize that he has been working on a seemingly ordinary task like changing clothes or sorting the week’s pills for much longer than it would comparatively take for a non-DS. 

The stress that this lack of time awareness causes for everyone is almost impossible to describe.  It doesn’t make any difference how many times you tell him that it is Wednesday.  It doesn’t matter if you tell him that you will be gone two hours if he cannot conceive of that segment of time.  All the DS knows is that he doesn’t know something that used to be important – day, date, hour. 

These fluctuations in the awareness of time on the part of the DS cause frustration, confusion, disappointment, even anger and fear for him, his family, his caregivers and others.  Some practical aids might help a DS keep a better hold on his awareness of time for a while, like talking clocks and simple one-day-at-time calendars; however, eventually the loss of the meaning of time and all that implies will become so apparent and overwhelming that nothing will help.  Those around the DS must adjust as he cannot.


Image credit: vesnafoto – stock.adobe.com


  1. This is just one more thing that the rest of us, who have no direct contact with a sufferer, wouldn’t think of. One more surprising and frustrating discovery for you, the care-giver, to adapt to.

    Liked by 1 person

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