Dementia and Using Clocks

Photo of a memory clock - Dementia and using clocks.

Losing Track of Time:The Benefits of Using Clocks for Dementia
An article for the Alzheimer’s Association by Ava M. Stinnett

How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? (Dr. Seuss)

What can we learn about dementia and using clocks? We know that aging and dementia-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease can cause confusion, memory loss, and difficulty performing everyday activities. Another symptom of Alzheimer’s disease involves losing track of time, dates, and seasons of the year. As the disease progresses, it may also be more difficult to differentiate between night and day.

Although calendars may help those affected, it’s important to keep in mind that a person with Alzheimer’s not only forgets to look at the calendar but they often forget how to read a calendar. For example, the person with Alzheimer’s might suppose that the sixth day of the month on the calendar refers to the sixth month of the year. When it comes to keeping track of time, a large easy-to-read clock may seem like a good idea. But your loved one may not know how to interpret what the hands on the face of a clock mean. They may ask you repeatedly what day or what time it is, perhaps because they forgot that they’d just asked you.

If a loved one can’t determine what day it is, what year it is, or even what time of day it is, how can they be expected to remember whether they’ve taken the day’s medication or if they have a medical appointment or plans for a visitor to stop by? As caregivers, we may not realize that it’s common for those with Alzheimer’s to feel confused or too embarrassed to admit that they can no longer read or make sense of a calendar, a clock, or a watch.

Fortunately, there are a variety of clocks on the market that are designed specifically to help people with dementia and using clocks. Sometimes referred to as “Alzheimer’s clocks” or “dementia user-friendly clocks,” they help those affected by the disease keep track of dates and times in a way that helps them maintain the routine, structure, and focus they need to ease confusion and anxiety.

When shopping for a clock, look for the following features:
• Clear and simple display of time, day of the week, month, and year
• Images to indicate whether it is morning, afternoon, evening, or night
• Clearly visible at night without being too bright
• Easy to set up
• Tamper-proof buttons to avoid accidental interference

There is an increasing amount of evidence about the benefits of using clocks for dementia. An understanding of the correct time, day, and date can reduce stress and help those with dementia feel less alone or lost in the past. When they are able to stay anchored in the present, independence is improved and, perhaps, they will feel as if they are functioning the same way as everyone else.