Dealing with Disorientation: Tips for Helping Your Loved One

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • One of the biggest challenges that my mom faces is disorientation. She increasingly has become unsure of issues that we all take for granted (like knowing the day of the week, the month and the time of day). This situation proves troubling for a strong-willed woman who has prided herself on her own independence as well as her ability to take care of her family and a small business.

    In The 36-Hour Day (which is a wonderful resource book), Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins note that an awareness of time is one of the first losses experienced by someone who has dementia. They explain that the initial loss of short-term memory means that the person with a dementia such as Alzheimer’s Disease has no memory of the events that have been experienced that day. This lack of awareness quickly leads to disorientation. My mom is a good example. She often is confused about which meal she is having; she’s completely forgotten about going to physical therapy in the morning or playing bingo in the afternoon. Mom no longer has any concept of what day of the week it is, much less the month or the season.
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    To help her try to have some orientation, I have adapted an idea that came from the hospital where Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ve purchased an erasable white board and have hung it right by Mom’s bed where she can easily see it. I then try to write information that will help Mom remain oriented. On a daily basis, either the nursing home staff or I will change the date and the day of the week. This board provides a place for Mom to look to know that it’s Wednesday, May 3, 2006. According to the nursing home nurses and aides who work with Mom, looking at this white board’s visual cues is now part of Mom’s daily routine.

    Because the board has become such an integral part of Mom’s life, I also write other important information, such as when I plan to visit the next day or if she has an upcoming appointment for a haircut. I also indicate if there is something interesting on television that she would like to watch. For instance, Mom loves basketball so I put a reminder to watch the NBA playoffs. This note also cues the nursing home aides, who will turn on the television for her to watch.

    The nursing home staff members also use the board’s messages to reinforce positive behaviors that they want from her. Mom will proudly tell you she’s a stubborn Missouri mule. That stubbornness will emerge when Mom doesn’t think she should wear her oxygen at all times (although the doctors say otherwise). This mindset leads to mini-battles with the nursing home staff and with me, especially when she is exceptionally disoriented. After one such battle, I wrote on the white board, “Dr. Deaton wants you to wear your oxygen at all times.” Ever since, the nursing staff can point to that statement from her revered doctor in order to get my stubborn mom to do what she needs to do for her health.

    It's a little trick that makes her life a little easier.
Published On: May 03, 2006