Is it 6pm or 6am?
February 1, 2011 6:50 PM   Subscribe

Is this kind of time/day disorientation a normal sign of aging or should I be concerned?

My mom is 67 and occasionally is confused about the time or day, but only when she first wakes up. For example, she will fall asleep on the couch and wake up, look at the clock, and say "is that 6am or 6pm?" To be fair, with our curtains closed it's pretty dark either way, and this time of year the sun would either just be coming up or just have gone down.

Another example is this evening, she woke up from her nap and asked me if it was Tuesday or Wednesday. Rarely (as in only once that I can remember), she is way more off than that - she once asked me "tonight's Friday, right?" but it was only Tuesday.

I think the key is that she never ever shows any kind of disorientation like this except when she's just woken up. I've never heard her ask this when she first wakes up in the morning either - only when she wakes up from her evening nap on the couch. Perhaps she asks the question before she has time to get her bearings and would be able to figure it out on her own if she thought about it a little longer. This happens probably 2-3 times a week and started maybe a year ago.

So is this a normal thing or should I be talking to her doctor?
posted by IndigoRain to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
I"m 35 and I do that and I also have particular trouble with what day/time is it after naps (more so than after sleeping for the night). I can't figure out if I'm waking up from a nap or if it's the middle of the night and I'm waking up and need to just fall back asleep til morning. Sometimes even looking at the clock doesn't help -- yes, 2..but 2 am or pm? -- It takes a minute or two to figure it out.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:52 PM on February 1, 2011

I've done this all my life. I once woke up from a nap then showered and got completely ready for school. Happens a lot in my family.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:57 PM on February 1, 2011

Is she retired? When you're in a fixed schedule, tracking days and hours becomes second nature. Once that external reason is removed, it gets harder.

Still, I'm not retired and I sometimes need a moment to figure out the day/time when I've just woken up. In the absence of other signs of cognitive trouble, she's probably fine.
posted by kagredon at 7:04 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think this is just a side effect of napping or having irregular sleeping patterns and can happen to anyone of any age.
You say this started a year ago, has she been napping more in that time, or has she always had naps and this is new? In and of itself, I wouldn't worry too much, but if you're concerned certainly keep an eye out for any other changes to her behaviour.
posted by goshling at 7:28 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Random data point - I had a housemate who was always super disoriented when she woke up - at every age. I met her at about 32 and she was that way then. It was noticeable because she was a nurse and occasionally had to be woken up for emergency calls - she requested that we always wake her up by telling her "It's okay, it's me, it's 4 AM, you're home, but the hospital needs you..." I offer this just to say yes, it could be sleep-cycle-related and not age-related. But when in doubt, it might not hurt to ask if she's noticed an increase in this confusion.
posted by Miko at 7:57 PM on February 1, 2011

I'm 27 and if I wake up from a nap in the evening like that I never know if it's morning or night. This has been the case since as far back as I can remember -- high school, at least. And I am in perfectly good physical and mental health.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:03 PM on February 1, 2011

It wouldn't hurt for you to ask some basic questions. Any changes to medication? Any changes to sleep patterns? Weight gain/loss? Bumped her head? Stuff like that. Just kind of get a grip on where she's at. Probably nothing to worry about, though.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:09 PM on February 1, 2011

I'm a grad student and work 7 days a week; it's really hard to remember what day of the week it is if there isn't some kind of regular ritual.

If you're concerned about your mother; maybe have her be involved with some community group that meets on a particular day of the week, rather than some day of the month.

This is less indicative of mental drain-itude than a lack of regular social interaction. Encourage your mom to make new friends and expand her social network. She really sounds like that having and being around peers could really improve her quality of life - even if it meant living in a 'home.'

Or you could see your mom every Sunday*, which could remind her of which day of the week it is based on "how many more days until I see Indigo again" vs "how many days since I've seen Indigo."

*sorry, dude.
posted by porpoise at 9:01 PM on February 1, 2011

Nthing the "it's normal" answers.

I am a teenager, and whenever I wake up from a nap and I can't tell from my window whether it's dark because the sun's already gone down or because it hasn't come up yet, I call my best friend to ask. I used to just ask my family, but they teased me pretty mercilessly about it.
posted by estlin at 9:45 PM on February 1, 2011

I did that this afternoon. When the phone woke me from a sound sleep I asked my friend from several time zones away what day it is.

I sometimes have lost track during an afternoon nap, particularly when I slept deeply. I notice this more these days because I am more likely to take that kind of nap now that I have retired but I always did need time to wake up properly. Travel for work was often tiring and sometimes I had to nap or otherwise sleep irregularly and can recall waking up not knowing what city I was in, then having to wait until I oriented myself. If someone had been observing me the moment I woke up, I'd probably not have been considered very competent.

If it resolves after a bit of time passes, and there are no other big lapses, good; she might always have needed time to wake up and you just weren't always paying this much attention. As a caution though, once when I became increasingly forgetful and ignored it, telling myself it was age-related, it turned out to be a symptom of serious anemia. I promised thereafter to have regular checkups.
posted by Anitanola at 11:48 PM on February 1, 2011

I did that this afternoon. When the phone woke me from a sound sleep I asked my friend from several time zones away what day it is. I've always needed time to wake up properly although the only occasions when I didn't know what time or day it is, is when I've been awakened abruptly, when I've been sleeping deeply during an afternoon nap, or when traveling has disrupted my sleep schedule.

If you started observing your mother more closely about a year ago, it is possible you are noticing something that is perfectly normal for her and nothing to worry about. On the other hand, physical problems (emphysema with severe anemia, for instance) can make a person vague and forgetful, so regular checkups are always in order.

It is a big adjustment to have to start taking on the responsibility for assisting one's parent and you are to be commended for being so conscientious in caring for her. It's an adjustment for the parent, as well. I've had to learn how to communicate differently with my offspring. I've had to let go of some 'parental privilege' and he's had to take the risk that I won't die of neglect just because he goes ahead with his life. We've had to negotiate when we'll worry and how decisions will be made about health issues and other things. It was bumpy at first but we're in new territory now and honest communication is key. (I'm 76; he's 50.)

Good luck to you both.
posted by Anitanola at 12:47 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, there's an example of losing track! Thought I was still previewing and editing. I'm very sorry.
posted by Anitanola at 12:49 AM on February 2, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. My mom does work 5 days a week... she prefers working and says if she sat at home she'd be bored out of her mind. Last spring when she was forced to take 3 weeks off due to pneumonia, she said she was starting to get depressed and have cabin fever by the end of the "vacation." Haven't noticed any other lapses so I'll chalk this up to being normal. Thanks again!
posted by IndigoRain at 1:53 AM on February 2, 2011

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