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Take a moment and think about your day. Do you do the same things every day at certain times? Do you have certain activities that you always follow with another activity? We don’t often think about that because it is routine. Routine according to Merriam Webster is “habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure”.
There are multiple reasons why routine is important. Human beings seem to thrive on routine. We like to do the same things over and over. When I wake up in the morning my second stop after the bathroom is the kitchen to make coffee. I like to start my day with a leisurely cup of coffee. What if I couldn’t remember that? What if all I knew was that something isn’t “right”? It would make me cranky and difficult. However if someone who knew me well, my husband or one of my kids was with me they would know that “Mom doesn’t do anything before she has her coffee.”
Another example would be as you go through your evening and get ready for bed do you brush your teeth before or after you put on your pajamas (assuming you wear pajamas). In the shower do you wash your hair or your body first? Even how we eat is routine and individualized. Some people eat one thing at a time, some circle the plate taking a bit of everything and then repeating the circle. Why does this matter? Well normally it doesn’t but when you have dementia small details matter.
Developing a routine provides a sense of comfort and normalcy to a world that is anything but comfortable or normal for the person with Dementia. If you do the same things in the same order day after day it provides cues and direction that are otherwise absent. If a person gets up everyday and the first thing they do is brush their teeth they are more likely to continue that habit when they have Dementia, as long as the environment is similar and the “tools” are readily available. If a person with Dementia has a habit of walking everyday and they fall and break their hip. Post-op they are more likely to do well because they will often forget that they broke their hip but “remember” that they walk everyday because that is their routine which tends to trigger a kind of auto-pilot or activity without thought.
So what should a routine look like?
Try to keep the days events in the same order
- Get up
- Morning Activity of the day
- Afternoon Activity of the day
- Evening Activity of the day
- Brush teeth/Get ready for bed
- Go to bed
You can see that the bolded activities would change and the others stay the same day in and day out. Your routine may look different from the one listed above as long as it has the basic structure of the same activities in the same order. You will enable your loved one to stay independent longer if they have a reliable consistent routine and that’s best for everyone involved.