The Benefits of Using Routines for People with Dementia

Eating Breakfast Together Can Be an Important Part of a Morning Routine
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Because Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia can make it difficult to learn new things, using established, consistent routines can be calming and reassuring, for both the person with dementia and those around her.

Routines are often associated more with our procedural and long term memory, and since Alzheimer's typically first affects the short-term memory, the memory of a routine will often remain well into the middle stages of Alzheimer's.

In the early stages of dementia, people may be very well aware of routines and they may verbally object if that routine is possible going to be altered. In the middle stages of dementia, routines often consist of an almost automatic physical motion, such as brushing your teeth.

Types of Daily Routines

Routines are the things that regularly happen, often on a daily basis. Routines can be comprised of eating breakfast, reading the newspaper or a magazine, getting your hair done on Friday's, going for a walk every day together, setting the table for dinner, drying the dishes after lunch, or using a certain table cloth on Sunday's.

Routines may also consist of the order in which tasks are completed. If you're getting ready for bed, you might start by walking into the bathroom and proceed with brushing your teeth, using the toilet, washing your hands and then going to bed.

You should aim to include activities that require physical exercise, such as a morning walk, as well as activities that may fall into a more therapeutic category such as music, art, puzzles and more.

Benefits of Routines

  • Maintain Functioning

Practicing an activity regularly, whether it's a physical or mental task, may increase the likelihood of that ability remaining.

  • Reduces Anxiety

The predictability of a routine can decrease anxiety. The person with dementia may feel more comfortable and confident if he knows what to expect.

  • Decrease Caregiver Stress

Routines can lessen the stress for those caring for people with dementia by making the day more organized and possibly decreasing the chance of challenging behaviors.

  • Allow for Some Independence

Activities that have been practiced regularly, such as daily folding the laundry, can increase self-esteem and confidence because the person can perform it independently. Especially in the earlier stages of dementia when people are more likely to be aware of cognitive deficits, independence in a task can be an encouragement to them.

Adjusting Routines

Routines may need to be simplified as dementia progresses. For example, if your wife always washed the dishes after dinner, you may need to reduce the amount of dishes or use plastic ones. You might also need to rewash the dishes at a later point if she's less able to wash them fully, or have her wash them again if she needs something else to do.

If your husband always chooses what clothing to wear in the morning, you may need to rotate the location of certain clothing or purchase a duplicate favorite sweater so that the other one can be washed.

Sources:

Alzheimer's Association. Creating a Daily Plan. Accessed March 28, 2013. http://www.alz.org/care/dementia-creating-a-plan.asp

Alzheimer Society of Canada. Routines and reminders. Accessed March 28, 2013. http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/sk/Living-with-dementia/Day-to-day-living/Routines-and-reminders

Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Caregiving Tips: Daily Routines. Accessed March 28, 2013. http://www.alzfdn.org/EducationandCare/dailyroutines.html

Lewy Body Dementia Association. Understanding Behavioral Changes in Dementia. http://www.lbda.org/content/understanding-behavioral-changes-dementia

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