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Orchard Cottage

Alzheimer's disease and time-shift

A person living with dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, is likely to face difficulties storing and retrieving new memories. These problems can lead to a person becoming ‘time-shifted’. Memory gets lost the way a factory would make redundancies: last in, first to go. In effect, a person may interpret what is happening in the present by drawing on memories of the past.

We need to find ways of interacting with a person who may be time-shifted.

Though a person who is ‘time-shifted’ may struggle to relate in ways you might expect, they are nevertheless involved in relationships and have desires they wish to fulfil and concerns they wish to express. As the condition progresses, they may in effect shift further back in time.

We know that memories associated with strong emotions are more likely to be retrieved than everyday routine happenings - so key milestones and events in a person’s life (both positive and negative) will stay with them for longer. A person’s current emotional state or surroundings can trigger emotional memories or associations from the distant past. These memories will be used to make sense of experiences in the here and now. So we can support a person who may be time-shifted by ‘entering their world’ and knowing as much about them as possible.

By sharing a commitment to uncovering meaning when someone is ‘time-shifted’, we can support a person to live well.

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Dementia Care: Staying Connected and Living Well

Newcastle University

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