Although spatial disorientation is frequently observed in persons with Alzheimer disease, it is not well understood. A descriptive study was conducted to examine spatial skills associated with spatial orientation. Spatial tasks were selected and grouped into three types of spatial skills: perceptual, cognitive, and functional. These spatial tasks were administered to a group of 15 persons with senile dementia of the Alzheimer type (SDAT) (early Alzheimer disease) and a group of 15 control subjects. The results indicated that the subjects with SDAT were impaired on half of the perceptual spatial tasks and all of the cognitive spatial tasks. On the functional spatial tasks, however, the subjects with SDAT showed impaired skills in the new environment but intact skills in familiar environments.

Spatial disorientation poses a danger and limits a person’s ability to independently perform daily activities that require navigation outside of the home. Occupational therapy should therefore include the assessment of spatial orientation skills in persons who are in the early stages of dementia.

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