Understanding Time with Dementia

Tic Toc What’s Wrong with My Clock – Living Dementia Time

I have searched and searched for a clock that will interpret time for people with dementia. Not only can reading a clock be difficult, at times the whole concept of time is befuddling. Dates, hours, and minutes aren’t always significant to me – they are just numbers and numbers REALLY confuse me!  Clocks and calendars can be so unreliable – they just don’t understand dementia time.

If my calendar is marked “Dr. Smith 10:00”, my head doesn’t want to leave until 10:00. The notion of needing time to get dressed and the 30-minute drive does not enter into my equation. I only relate to 10:00, so that’s when I plan to walk out the door.  As you may suspect, there are situations when this can cause an issue.

Quarter of? Quarter After? Half-past? 20 of? What??? When I look at a digital clock I see four numbers that represent the time. When I look at an analog clock (which I rarely do) I see hands that point to numbers.  Neither of these clocks has a display that reads the quarter or half – they have only numbers.  Although my clock displays 20 after a certain hour, none of my clocks have a display that reads 20 of any hour.  This total imprecision in the way clocks are made has created havoc on many occasions.  It seems I am always either early or late – except when I have an event that does not require leaving the house and it starts on an hour.  At which point my clock is always accurate.

If I am told to be ready at 20 of eleven, my brain is only going to focus on 11:00 and that is when I will be ready.  If I am told half-past 11:00, I expect to leave at 11:00 as none of my clocks say it is half-past anything.  I think of quarter as a coin and there are no coins on my clock either.  I don’t always comprehend this time lingo.  In her beautiful illustration, my neighbor’s daughter, Abigail, relates this to how The Little Mermaid must have felt when she first came on land.  Lost in a confusing world and unable to communicate.

There are moments when this confusion upsets me to the point that I begin to spiral into my “dementia daze zone.”  Although the concept of time has no meaning when I am in my zone, it is not a pretty sight!

Since my dementia diagnosis, Roy (my wonderful husband) and I have spent much effort trying to identify the triggers that cause confusion and find ways to adjust to overcome the obstacle.

As we found that I was continuously early or late and not sure of time schedules, we began the task of trying to figure out what triggered the confusion.

When Roy said something about half past eleven, I realized I had no idea what he meant.  As much as math has become a problem for me so has numbers.  When I look at a clock, I see 11:30 – eleven, three, zero.  I no longer see half-past or thirty.  My brain interprets exactly what is displayed on the clock.  OK, now we know the obstacle – time to make some adjustments.

We corrected my calendar by listing two times.  We list the time we need to leave and the actual appointment time.  If it’s a morning appointment, we also list what time I need to start getting ready.

We adjusted how we speak time.  Time is spoken about as it reads on our digital clock, for example; Twenty of eleven is stated as ten, four, zero.  Eliminating the halves, quarters and “of’s” took some getting used to, but it has really paid off!

Since our household has adjusted the way we talk time, I am rarely late or early.  And my clocks seem to be giving more accurate information.   Hopefully, someday, someone will create a calendar and clock that will adjust to dementia time.  For now, we’ve learned to make adjustments to overcome another hurdle.  So, until the next obstacle gets in our way – we’re living a positive productive life and on time!

Thank you, Abigail Marburger, for bringing color and illustration to this post.  You are a beautiful young lady and an excellent artist!

Love & Laughter,


11 thoughts on “Tic Toc What’s Wrong with My Clock – Living Dementia Time

  1. sylvia Ball

    Aunt Laurie this is a wonderful article to help people understand what their loved ones are going through and what they can do to help. Keep up the awesome work!! Love you!


  2. Sandra Wellman

    Laurie, this explains the problem many people have with time management. You are blessed to have such a helpful family.


  3. Earl Bailey

    Hey Laurie, I am 77 now and am in the beginnings of forgetting; much more than ever before. Forgetting what I was doing when leaving the room always betrays my look of confidence but I keep on trying. Love ya!!



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