If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium is a movie released in the late 60s about a nine-country, eighteen-day bus trip from London to Rome. If you’ve ever been on one of those whirlwind tours, you know the disorienting feeling of waking up with no idea of where you are or what day it is. In fact, if you’re retired and are no longer tied to a work schedule, you may experience that in your own home from time to time. You may worry that this is a sign of the big “A,” but according to the Alzheimer’s Association, if by the time you’ve washed your face and had your first cup of coffee, the fog has lifted, you have nothing to worry about. The confusion of time or place that may be a warning sign is described like this:
People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
When Mom went to the “memory doctor,” the doc always asked her the day of the week, the date, the season, the city, county and state where she lived. To her it was always Spring, it was always September, and she never knew the day of the week or the year. She didn’t know the city or county, but sometimes she said we were in Texas. Dad still had some of his wits about him, and he had the doctor’s system figured out. He always said “ladies first,” and let Mom go first. He listened closely when the doctor told her the correct answers, and he remembered them long enough to make it through his examination sounding relatively normal. But his problems with time and place orientation showed up when we went on a 7-week, 16-state trip in our RV.
In spite of weeks of planning and countless explanations of our plans and itinerary, Dad didn’t get it. He and Mom rode in the “living room” of our 40-foot motorhome, safely belted in on the sofa that made out into their bed when we stopped for the night. They commented on the passing scenery, and he sometimes followed our progress on a map, but when we stopped for the night, he was often confused. One evening we camped in a state park in Texas, and the three of us set up our chairs under a tree overlooking the lake while David took a shower.
“Where’s my car?” he said. This was before we had towing capability, so those we were visiting either came to us or lent us a vehicle.
“It’s back in the driveway in Florida,” I said.
“Then how did we get here?”
“In that big bus behind us.”
“Who drove it?”
“Oh, is he here?”
“Yes, he’s taking a shower.”
He contemplated that for a bit, then said, “How’s Mattias?”
Don’t ask a woman about her only grandson (this was before Zoe) unless you want a five-minute dissertation. After mine, he said, “Do they have any plans to come see us any time soon?”
“No, but we’re going up there when we leave here.”
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I forgot.”
There was a lot of that going around.
Another evening we pulled into an RV park after 300 miles and 8 hours on the road. While David and I hooked up the utilities, put out the awnings, and extended the slides, Dad peered out the windows at the other campers. When I came back inside to start dinner, he once again showed his confusion.
“A lot of our neighbors left during the day. There aren’t nearly as many RVs here as there were this morning.”
I guess he thought we had been driving in circles all day.
If you or your loved one is more than a little confused about time and place, talk to your doctor. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 or www.alz.org.