Time Distortion

One of the things that changes as we age can be our ability to accurately judge time. A lot of people tend to experience this as time passing more quickly or slowly than it really is. This tendency is magnified greatly in early stages of certain forms of dementia—where minutes can feel like hours. 

Something you may notice with an aging loved one is that their attitude towards time may start to shift. Other things can contribute to this shift as well, such as deteriorating night vision. An increased need for bathroom breaks may make them insistent on pit stops everywhere you go. And while these are normally seen as nothing more than harmless quirks, they can, in fact, lead to some significant stress, especially if you’re the primary source of transportation and support. It can be difficult on your own overbooked schedule if a parent insists on arriving early for a doctor’s appointment when the doctor is normally known for running late.  

So if you find yourself in this position, is there anything you, as the caregiver, can do? The answer is yes! There are three things:

Why do Elderly Have a “Need for Speed?”

The first thing you can do is to try and determine why they always seem to be in a rush—whether it be because of underlying worries about other issues besides timeliness. You might find out that Mom’s fear of getting home late is actually out of concern for the dog, or that Dad’s insistence on dining early is so that he can save a few dollars. Taking care of these issues might help give them (and you) some much-needed relief.

Set a Schedule

The next thing you can do for them is to set a realistic time schedule, review it when necessary, and then stick to it. If you know how long it takes a parent to put on their coat, lock the door, and put other items away, factor that time into the schedule. Then tell them what you’re doing. Let them know that by creating a schedule and factoring those things into it, you’ll be better able to keep appointments and the like, often arriving earlier than you normally would, and still having plenty of time in general.

While some things can pop up and complicate things, try your best to stick to the plan. With enough repetition, your family member will realize that you’ll still be able to get where you need to be when you need to be there.

Time Spent with Elderly Parents is Valuable

Lastly, take a look at your own attitude toward time. That “wasted” time in the waiting room might be a valuable opportunity to have a one-on-one talk with your loved one. It may also be a way for you to catch up on reading, draft a holiday message, plan next week’s menus, or text a friend you’ve been meaning to reconnect with. It can also serve as a brief interlude of relaxation to enjoy, and a bit of reframing on your part can do a lot to making a frustrating situation where your parent demands all of your time much more tolerable for you.