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Why a Daily Routine Is Important for the Elderly & Others with Dementia

senior man with glasses and alarm clock above his head looking upMy 96-year-old father has practically no short-term memory, but he can remember when it’s time to go to the care center dining room, because meals are served at the same time every day. Anything that causes him to deviate from his daily schedule of waking, dressing, eating, showering or napping can result in confusion. “Where am I?” “What are we doing now?” For example, a Dr.’s appointment that causes him to have a late nap might result in him waking up not knowing whether it is morning or afternoon.

Even elderly people without dementia feel safer and less anxious when they don’t have to worry about “the unknown” or what’s coming next. Things that are done repeatedly on a schedule become like “body memory,” and don’t require much thought to act upon. Sometimes we say we know elderly people who are “set in their ways.” This is usually a good thing. It’s easier to cope with memory and cognitive issues when as many activities as possible are predictable. Even though a person with dementia might not be aware of the routine or even of time passing, having a routine helps them feel more grounded and secure.

The importance of routines for people with dementia

Routines are especially important for people in the beginning stages of any type of Dementia.  It gets harder for them to remember new things, but routines are often ingrained into their memory without conscious thought. Daily routines can be helpful for both the caregiver and the elderly person with dementia. The caregiver can spend less time trying to figure out what to do and more time on meaningful and enjoyable activities with their loved ones or clients. Caregivers should also remember to put time for themselves into the schedule. Some activities, like taking a walk, also could include the person with dementia.

Routines also help those with Alzheimer’s to stay calm. They recognize things that they have done all of their lives longer than new items added to their routines. That is why they remember how to eat and get dressed longer than where they put something yesterday. Often when faced with something new, they become fearful and can act out by becoming angry or uncooperative. However, if the function is part of their routine, they more often respond quietly and calmly.

Organizing the day

A person with Alzheimer’s or other progressive dementia will eventually need a caregiver’s assistance to organize their days. Structured activities can often reduce agitation and improve mood. When planning a schedule and activities for a person with dementia, you will need to experiment and adjust according to their changing abilities and interests.

Before making a plan, also consider:

  • What times of day the person functions best
  • Ample time for meals, bathing and dressing
  • Regular times for waking up, napping, going to bed; for creative, intellectual, physical, social and spiritual activities
  • Including enough flexibility within the daily routine for spontaneous activities and time for yourself. Don’t be concerned about filling every minute with an activity. The person with Alzheimer’s needs a balance of activity and rest, and may need frequent breaks and varied tasks.

More on sleep: Having a regular daily routine–doing the same basic activities like eating, dressing and bathing at the same time every day—helps older adults sleep better. This can be especially helpful if the person with dementia experiences sleep issues like sundowning. Creating a predictable daily routine is a simple, non-drug way to improve sleep.

The bottom line

Three major benefits the elderly and those with dementia get from routines include: 1) Reduced stress and anxiety, 2) Increased feelings of safety and security, and 3) Better sleep. Something as basic as sticking to a daily routine can significantly improve the quality of life for a loved one or client with dementia and for the caregiver, as well. Reducing stress, increasing the feeling of security and improving sleep will make everyone happier and healthier

by Marti Lythgoe, DTN Home Care Writer, Editor



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