Those with dementia may be unable to read hands on a clock
For as long as I can remember, my Mom always wore a wrist watch. They would be small, white-gold, and suited her personality.
Shortly after her diagnosis with Alzheimers, she began to complain that her watch could not tell time. It appeared to be working fine. Still, she complained. For weeks, we had a running battle over watches.
A quick stop to purchase a new watch-battery was included in every shopping trip. Mom saved everything and to my dismay, she resurrected an old cigar box that guarded the bodies of a dozen old watches.
Her time-pieces from a lifetime, I imagine. Eventually, they had all been dressed with new batteries, cleaned where necessary and wound till their innards ticked heartily. Still–Mom swore they were broken and she could not read the hands on a clock.
Not a single watch in that box could tell time, she told me. Truthfully, I was baffled. Why would all of her watches stop working at the exact same time?
After checking them all, I struggled to convince her that none of the bundle were broken but all were working/and ticking the minutes away. She would still argue that they did Not!
Working on Mom’s watches, changing batteries, setting and re-setting, snuggling near her ear to test for ticking became every afternoon’s activity.
Finally, in desperation I think, my daughter bought Mom a gorgeous new watch for Christmas and I was thrilled. Surely, now, the watch battle would end.
Only days after receiving her brand new watch, Mom was complaining again–“This watch can’t tell time, either.” Determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, I sat down with Mom and her brand new Christmas watch.
Though we tried wind-up watches, battery watches and self-winding watches, Mom’s complaint remained the same. None of them could tell time. I showed Mom the hands on the watch, emphasized how the second-hand jumped with each tick. Mom’s only reply was, “Well, how am I suppose to know what jumping hands mean? Jumping around from number to number, that doesn’t help me know the time! I want a watch like yours. Your watch can tell time.”
I looked down at my own wrist, my digital watch with the time displayed in bold neon-green numbers! assuring Mom that her watch displayed the same time as mine.
“See,” Mom exclaimed, pointing to my wrist, “Your watch can really tell time. My watch has those numbers in a circle, what good does that do? It doesn’t tell time. It doesn’t tell me anything. I want a watch that tells time like yours!”
–>> I could hardly stop laughing long enough to trade watches<<–
It had never entered my mind that Mom might have lost the concept of reading the hands on the face of a clock, but she had. And I’m sure it was totally confusing and frustrating for her. She didn’t know what she’d forgotten, she only knew her watch no longer told time. But she certainly couldn’t explain the problem because she didn’t understand it herself. Sometimes, it requires time and thought and patience to decipher what is happening through their eyes.
I have since learned that the “clock test“ is often given by physicians fairly early into symptoms of dementia. They draw a circle on a piece of paper, and ask their patient to add the numbers as the face of a clock, and then set the hands to a particular time. Generally, an Alzheimer’s patient or someone suffering with dementia is unable to do this test. The part of their brain that reasons in that manner is damaged. They can no longer reach the face of a clock or understand the positioning of the hand to create a time.
I did try the test with Mom afterward, and she had no clue where to put the numbers on the round circle that I drew to form the face of a clock.