How Daily Schedules Benefit Seniors with Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Remember going to camp as a kid? Waking up to the bell, dining in the mess hall every morning, then heading off for activities like going to the pool, journal time, crafts, canoeing, and hiking? Just as a regular schedule that was planned out and communicated to campers helped keep everyone on task and on time, so does a daily itinerary for someone with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Check out 5 ways daily schedules can help:
Bottom line, a daily schedule which creates a framework for the day can prevent surprises and resulting agitation, frustration, and anger that many people with cognitive decline experience. A set time for activities including waking up and going to bed, brushing teeth and toileting, getting dressed, taking medicines, eating meals, exercising, and even having fun make functioning easier and less stressful for older adults with memory loss.
Dealing with sundowners disease, or the onset of symptoms including confusion, agitation and outbursts each evening when the sun sets? This confusion and irritability around altered sleep/wake cycles in adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be alleviated in part by a fixed series of events that occur nightly prior to bedtime. For example, if a senior with cognitive decline knows that each evening at the same time they first go to the bathroom, then get pajamas on, then brush teeth before crawling into bed, their grasp on when sleep occurs might be made stronger.
This might seem antithetical – doesn’t having your day planned out for you give you less control? Not exactly. For older adults experiencing dementia and Alzheimer’s, a repeated schedule that helps them know what is coming next and what to plan for offers more security and a sense of being in charge of themselves and their activities.
Even allotting an hour or two of free time daily which allows someone with dementia and memory loss to come up with their own activity during that specific time is helpful – i.e. they might choose to work on a puzzle one day, or play cards and crochet the next day. Their continued independence and involvement in decision-making is vital to combating feelings of frustration, anxiety, and depression.
If a daily schedule includes a brisk walk for 25 minutes everyday at 3pm, what are the chances that you’ll be exercising every afternoon? Pretty good, right? That’s the power of daily schedules – they encourage repetition and action, and make getting out and staying active that much more “normal.”
Seniors with cognitive decline may be wary of staying active and exercising, afraid they will fall or injure themselves. The truth is, however, exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your physical and mental health as you age. Not only does regular physical fitness help build bone mass and muscle strength, and keep the heart and lungs healthy, but it can combat memory loss and dementia too. The boost in blood circulation, heart rate and mental stimulation that goes hand in hand with staying active helps your brain exercise, adapting to new knowledge and situations, and forming new neural pathways for brain cells to communicate with each other.
A daily schedule isn’t just valuable to a patient dealing with memory loss and dementia – the people providing care and assisting the patient benefit from a regular agenda as well. The task of caring can include everything from daily duties with helping a loved one take medicine, eat, get dressed, etc. to more administrative jobs like scheduling appointments, refilling prescriptions, organizing transportation, buying supplies, and talking to insurance providers. A routine plan for the day helps carers designate times to execute tasks outside of hands-on care, in windows when their loved one is napping, for example.
In addition, a structured schedule provides more opportunity for meaningful time caregivers can spend with their loved one outside of caregiving duties. Instead of constantly leading roles of carer and patient, family caregivers especially need to be able to continue to embrace the roles of child and parent. A predetermined list for daily activities and times can open up new windows for engaging, familial contact that is meaningful and healing.
Irreversible. Incurable. Hopeless. These stark words do not need to describe you or your loved one’s experience with Alzheimer’s or dementia. By incorporating “pre-dementia” routines, balancing generous rest with activity, and sticking to it, a regular schedule can significantly transform the day to day living of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.