Orientation capacity often deteriorates markedly in dementia. The concept of time becomes distorted and the person has difficulty knowing the right time. Difficulties with orientation to time are connected with memory disturbances. The patient finds it difficult to remember meetings that have been arranged, or when it is time to take their medication. At the beginning, clocks and calendars may be enough to compensate for these deficiencies. The family, too, can help with planning and making sure they meet appointments.

Gradually, the concept of time breaks down more and more. In moderate dementia, it can be difficult to distinguish between day and night. As the brain damage spreads, the patient may find it entirely logical to get up in the middle of the night and get dressed and go to work, even though they finished working several years earlier. 

Dementia can also cause people to start getting lost, for example on the way home from the grocery shop. Later, as the disease progresses, it can be difficult for the person to find their way to their bedroom in their flat. 

In moderate dementia, orientation of the body to space becomes more of a problem. The patient often takes sidesteps, losing their balance. They can “miss” the toilet seat and sit down next to it.

Good advice for handling disorientation:

  • Keep a light on at night to make it easier to find the toilet, for example. 
  • Have things in contrasting colours to make them easier to find. For example, the toilet seat might be of a different colour, perhaps with differently coloured tiles behind the toilet.
  • If you live in a house, mark out the limits of the garden with fencing.
  • You could use alarms, e.g. alarm mats. 
  • Put a note in the dementia patient’s jacket showing the name, address and telephone number of a family member. This will make it easier for people to help if the patient gets lost.
  • As a family member, you could also keep a card in your purse or wallet stating that you are a relative of someone with dementia. Your address could also be on it, so that if anything happens to you your relative will not be left alone.

Disorientation can occur, for example, with Alzheimer’s vascular and fronto-temporal dementia. To find out more about the diseases, click here.

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