We explain why people living with dementia can find it increasingly difficult to tell the time – and show you how a dementia clock may help…
Whether it’s glancing at your phone, or looking at a clock or watch, checking the time is such an ingrained habit that most of us are hardly aware when we’re doing it – or how often we do it.
Being able to tell the time is an important skill. It helps us orientate ourselves in our day. When we look at our watch at 7am, we know it’s time to get up, when we check the clock on our computer at 1pm, we know it’s time for lunch, and when we glance at the alarm clock on our bedside table at 11pm, we know it’s probably time to turn off the light and go to sleep.
But as dementia progresses, time-telling skills usually decline and are often lost completely. Unsurprisingly perhaps, this can lead people to become even more confused, agitated and anxious.
Why do people with dementia struggle to tell the time?
As brain cognition declines in someone with dementia, they may have difficulty working out what the different numbers on a clock actually mean. So they may see a traditional clock face but aren’t able to work out what the numbers mean, or become confused about day and night and think it’s 2pm when it’s 2am. This is because the logical parts of the brain that are normally used for telling the time are no longer functioning as well as they did. In fact, being able to read a clock face is often used as one of the tests that are carried out to diagnose dementia.
People with dementia are also likely to forget what day it is or even what month or season it is, leading to confusion about where they need to be or what to wear.
What problems can this cause?
Imagine having absolutely no idea what day of the week it is or what time it is. Awful isn’t it? That’s what it can feel like for someone with dementia, which, unsurprisingly, can lead to frustration anxiety and even anger and aggression.
This level of confusion can also cause clingy or repetitive behaviour. For example, the person with dementia thinks you haven’t visited for days because they can’t work out what day it is, or they may end up ringing you repeatedly to ask what day it is or what the time is because they can’t read a clock.
How can you deal with it?
This depends largely on what stage of dementia your loved one is at, and what their level of cognitive abilities are. For example, those in the earlier stages of dementia may do well with a clock that covers off all information bases – time, day, month, and year. They may still be able to read a clock face, but need one that is clearly marked with all the numbers, as well as plenty of other information.
However, in the mid and later stages of the condition, the person with dementia may struggle to read a clock face, and it could be better to choose a clock that simply states the day and what part of the day – morning, afternoon, evening and night – they’re in, rather than one with a typical clock face.
Here’s our pick of what’s available:
Dementia clocks and watches
A clock that spells out all the information you need to orientate yourself could be useful in the earlier stages of dementia. It will clearly show whether it is am or pm (or it can operate on a 24-hour clock mode) as well as the date, month and year. The clock looks like a digital photo frame and can be wall mounted or rest on its own stand. It will automatically update the date on leap years.
Our Unforgettable 2-in-1 Calendar and Day Clocks are available in both 7 and 8 inch sizes. Learn more about them here.
This is a clock that has a normal face and hands, but also features images of a daytime scene (sun and clouds) and a night time scene (moon and stars). These images move round in time with the clock hands so that the person reading the clock can tell if it is 2am or 2pm according to the image that is showing. This will help to prevent confusion and hopefully encourage those who have a tendency to wander around at night (because they’re unsure whether it’s day or night) to stay in their room. These are suitable for people in the early stages of dementia.
Useful if the person you care for has sight problems alongside their dementia, a talking clock will announce the time each time a button is pressed. Sometimes, hearing the time said to you is easier to understand than having to read it. This is also the case with talking watches, which will announce the time and date when a button is pressed, or set to say the time on the hour.
Don’t forget! Set up a regular routine
Having a regular care plan routine can be very helpful if your loved one is struggling with time and having difficulty orientating themselves. For example, even something simple such as eating meals at the same time each day will provide comfort and security, and help them to orientate the day, even if they have no idea what the time is.