Why People With Dementia Switch Back to the Past

distorted_time1For those who have experienced dementia with a loved one, it can be alarming when their sense of time becomes distorted. Why is this? Read on to learn some valuable information as to how the concept of time changes when there is cognitive impairment. Thanks for visiting us at Advocare of South Florida. We provide Transitional Care Management to area seniors. 

Passage of Time: Why People With Dementia Switch Back to the Past

Time perception in dementia

Those with dementia judge the passage of time quicker than older adults without dementia, as well as younger adults. This is for prospective time perception, where people are instructed to estimate an upcoming time interval; and retrospective time estimation, where people judge time after the event has occurred, requiring them to mentally travel back in time.

As a practical example, a person with dementia is likely to underestimate how long they waited at a bus stop (if asked when the bus arrived; retrospective time perception) and how long they will be on the bus for their specified journey (if asked as the bus started; prospective time perception).

Those diagnosed with dementia may underestimate time due to difficulties in recollecting all events in the short-term past, creating a feeling of a relative empty time travel. Someone without dementia may remember the boy cycling his bike, the yellow car parked next to the shop, the noisy lawn mower, and the couple playing tennis, on their walk to the bus stop; while someone with dementia is likely to remember fewer of these events, creating the sense that less has occurred and therefore less time has past.

Living in the past

There is a link between the perception of time and memory function in those with dementia. Family members often report their loved ones with dementia sometimes live in the past, even reverting back to first languages.

This is because memory is not just one process in the brain, but a collection of different systems. Those with Alzheimer’s disease may have impairments in short-term memory, however remote memory can be left relatively intact. So they’re able to remember public and personal events many decades ago, but unable to recall what happened earlier that day.

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