As people age, they may become less attuned to circadian rhythms and the passage of time. The elderly may not be aware of the things we take for granted, such as knowing when to get up, go to bed and eat meals.
When Cal moved to a new facility about a year ago, he went from a facility having meals at fixed, announced times to having a flex schedule for eating with each meal available any time over a two hour window. Even after much explaining, this led to many missed meals because he simply doesn’t recognize the passage of time.
To solve this problem, the “meal clock” was born. In a normal clock, the hour hand makes two revolutions a day. If the hour hand is pointing directly right, it could mean 3 AM or 3 PM. With a 24-hour clock on the other hand (no pun intended) the hour hand makes just one rotation per day. The hour hand might point straight up at 6 AM, straight right at noon, straight down at 6 PM and so on. A bit confusing to read as a clock, but perfect as the basis of a meal clock or as a reminder for events that occur during the same time period each day. Only the hour hand is installed; when it is over a colored region, it’s time to eat. The illustration shows how this works. Note that the numbers indicating the hours are shown just for reference – they don’t actually appear on the face of the meal clock.
You make be thinking “great idea” but the only place you’ve seen a 24 hour clock is in Dr. Strangelove. (ok, I couldn't find a Dr. Stranglove picture including a 24 hour clock, but I'm sure there is one in the movie someplace!) It’s surprisingly easy to make a meal clock/daily reminder clock. You may have noticed that all the cheap clocks you see these days are powered by one AA battery and have a module that’s about 3” x 3” to turn the hands. 24 hour movements are available in the same package.
To build a meal clock, start with any clock using one of these standard modules. The cheapest wall clock at Ikea, the Rusch, is a great starting point.
Remove the face, gently pull off the hands and remove the clock movement by loosening the nut.
Press the movement out the back. It may be held in place with double-face tape or some locking tabs. Insert the 24 hour movement and tighten the nut. Next, replace the clock face with a new one showing meal times or other daily events. I’d recommend clearly defined and labeled areas and avoid presenting too much information. I’ve altered the traditional 24 hour clock arrangement, and made 6 AM be straight up. This means that the “day time” is shown on the right side of the clock face, evening at the lower left. Secure the face in position with double-face tape or a glue stick. Finally, install the hour hand. I cut the pointer off the second hand and installed the “button” on the clock to give it a finished look.
Setting the clock takes a little care. If possible, set it at the edge of one of the event times, at noon (straight right) or 6 PM (straight down).
Explain the operation to your loved one, showing that the hand shows when it’s time to eat or time for another activity. Don’t mention that it’s a clock as this may just lead to confusion.
This is the recently updated meal clock, with changes to reflect new meal times. The clock face is a little lighter than desired because HP wants money for a new toner cartridge. The small circles shown at 8:00, 3:30 and 8:30 PM are medication times, there for future reference if needed. The shaded area on the left side is labeled "Bed Time" - we've explained to Cal that he should be asleep during this time, and that it's not a good time to call people on the phone unless it's an emergency.
Next Time: Lighting Control Systems for Day/Night Orientation