By Erin Wallace, Seasons Family Support & Education Specialist
As humans, we are creatures of habit. Whether it’s indulging in a morning cup of coffee or going for a walk around the block after lunch, daily routines provide us with a sense of comfort and control over our sometimes chaotic lifestyles. For people living with dementia or cognitive change, routine is even more important. Individuals living with these cognitive changes thrive on familiarity. Whether it be a familiar face, familiar environment, or even a familiar food, anything that is familiar can be used to create successful connections.
This comforting sense of familiarity is supportive because as dementia progresses, the individual’s ability to plan, initiate and complete an activity will decrease. This is also known as apathy. As the disease progresses, the individual will experience greater difficulty in attempting new things. However, a predictable routine can help a person remain aware of the time of day and provide helpful orientation. An established pattern of events over time transfers the individual’s schedule and daily routine into their long term memory. This can assist the individual to maintain the ability to perform daily living activities while in the early to middle stages of dementia.
How to Get Started and Stick With It
The routine itself should be tailored to the individual living with dementia as much as possible. This includes preferences, likes, and of course, taking into consideration any dislikes. The more you include activities and areas of interest that have meaning and were important to your loved one prior to the onset of cognitive change, the more successful the routines will be. Consider things such as reading the paper, daily walks/exercise, meal times/preparations, religious activities, social activities with friends and family and sleep habits/hygiene.
Once you have a routine and have set the plan in motion, it’s important to stick with it as often as possible. Disruptions to the daily routine may have a negative impact and result in anxiety, agitation and increased confusion.
It is not realistic to think there will never be disruptions to the routine. This can happen due to appointments, unexpected illnesses, the individual’s changing mood, and also disease progression. Because of this, a good motto to follow is, “Blessed are the flexible, they don’t get bent out of shape!” This mindset can allow you to keep the routine in the forefront of your mind, but allows for deviations based on your person and other circumstances that may arise. It is important to be mindful that as the individual’s dementia progresses, the routine will need to be altered to better accommodate their current abilities. The process is trial and error. What works today may not work tomorrow.
Creating and maintaining a sense of normalcy for the person living with cognitive change can have great benefit, not only to that individual, but for you as a care partner as well. Senior Services offers many services helpful for caregivers. Visit SeniorServicesMidland.org and click on Caregivers to learn more or call 633-3700 for more information.