Confusion with Time and Place

Confusion with time and place may be early warning signs of Alzheimer's disease

Who hasn’t experienced some level of confusion at various times in their lives? It’s a relatively common thing to find ourselves not thinking quite as clearly, or as quickly as we normally do. When we’re tired it’s easy to find ourselves tuning out from conversations and becoming a little sketchy about when we did things, or where we were.

There are many different health problems and circumstances that can cause short-term confusion including: dehydration and its associated electrolyte imbalance, sleep deprivation, low blood sugar levels, hypothermia, infections, and even brain tumours. In most cases this type of confusion goes away after the cause is treated, but when episodes become frequent, or even permanent, then it is important to talk to your healthcare professional to make sure the underlying cause isn’t Alzheimers.

While it’s quite normal to forget what day of the week it is, especially when we are very busy and have a lot on our mind. The difference is that we can recall it again without too much effort. Reverse engineering by recalling what we did the previous day, for example, or how long ago the weekend was, and hey presto, ‘it’s Wednesday!’ pops straight back into our head. When you keep consistently forgetting and struggling to recall, it could be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s.

Some other typical warning signs focused around confusion and wandering, include:

  • Not only losing track of the day of the week or date, but also the season and even the year
  • Continually not knowing what day or time of day it is
  • The inability to grasp the concept of passing time, and not being able to understand the concept of ‘tomorrow’ or ‘next year, as examples
  • Forgetting where you are and how you got there
  • Becoming disorientated easily and not knowing how to get to familiar places like your own home.

Mum and Dad used to love having lunch out. They would often go into one of the main food courts in the middle of the city, but so did all the office workers and young families out to enjoy a day in town. So, it was very noisy and busy and I’m certain the noise levels and busyness affected Mum as her Alzheimer’s progressed and overwhelmed her. Once upon a time this would never have bothered her, as Mum loved being around people and people watching.

One day on one of these outings, we lost Mum. I got a panicked call from Dad explaining that he and Mum had just enjoyed lunch together and had then set off to do some shopping. Dad had got on the escalator to go up to the main shops, but Mum didn’t get on. By the time Dad managed to get himself back down to the ground level again, she had vanished. In the half an hour it then took me to reach him, Dad was beside himself and Mum was nowhere to be found.

In the end it took us nearly five hours to find Mum in what became a massive exercise involving security staff and the police. After scouring all the local shops with the security guards and riding around the streets of Sydney in a police car (they even turned on the siren for me!), we finally got a call from police on foot who had found Mum sitting down at the wharf where she and Dad always took the ferry home. I can’t imagine how frightened and confused Mum would have been, but thankfully she remembered that well-trodden path to get partially back home, and was safe.