By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: My mother is in the early stages of dementia and I've been struggling to find ways to help her stay aware and alert. Please email me any suggestions you have that could help with this. Mary in Ohio, 63

ANSWER: I don't have to tell you that you are in a very difficult spot, Mary, but there are ways to help the situation. When someone starts to lose a sense of reality, they are desperate to get reoriented. They want to know what day it is, what season it is, what the weather is like outside, what holiday is coming up, and what's going on in the world. Reality orientation is a path to helping your mother stay in the here and now.

How can this be accomplished? Buy your mother a large clock and place it in a prominent position in her home to help with time orientation. The same can be done with an oversized calendar. Then mark off each day with a big X so your mother stays in touch with the passing of time. I often go further and create a large bulletin board that monitors the day, the season, the weather, the next holiday, and loved ones' birthdays.

If your mother used to get the newspaper every day, bring in a large print paper so she can see the date and the news and can try to participate in the world around her. This should lower her daily confusion level while heightening her sense of independence.

It's also important to tell your mother what's happening and where she is going. I'm talking mostly about doctors' appointments and social outings. It's much more empowering to keep her involved in the plans or she could become belligerent and more confused. These considerations can help your mother connect the dots and fill in the holes in her new daily reality. It's one of the most important tasks you can accomplish as a caregiver.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.