Why routines are important

Alarm clock closeup
Never underestimate the benefits of a regular routine

When you care for a person with dementia, it’s important to understand that a change in their routine may cause confusion. The person may cope better with a regular schedule, where they get up at the same time and go about their daily tasks in the same order. This consistency will help to manage moods.

A familiar environment is also important, so if you take them out for a social occasion, try to choose familiar places. Even if they don’t remember the details of their previous visit, the environment may still be familiar and should bring comfort and a feeling of safety. I used to take my mother to the same restaurant every Sunday. She knew the restaurant and felt comfortable in its familiar surroundings. She also knew the staff who worked there and had a good rapport with the waiters. Although she didn’t always remember certain people or conversations, she usually had a sense that they’d met before and this made her feel comfortable and safe. She always seemed relaxed in this particular restaurant and our regular Sunday lunches made her very happy. It also removed us both from our respective roles where she was the person needing care and I was the carer. We got to spend quality time together that didn’t involve washing, dressing or other chores. Emotional barriers came down on both sides and we felt relaxed.

Of course, there will be some occasions where you have to change the person’s routine. They may need to visit their GP or go to the hospital. Take the time to explain the reason for the change of routine. Keep your explanation concise and not overly detailed. Be patient when explaining why they need to get up a bit earlier or change their schedule for the day. Repeat key points if need be. Allow extra time for the person to get ready or to help them get ready. Don’t rush them and make sure you’re in a calm frame of mind when you arrive to pick them up.

If you’re thinking of taking the person away on holiday, I’d recommend considering location and timeframes very carefully. I once took my mother to a health spa for two nights. I thought I’d planned it all so well but it was a steep learning curve. It was a short break to allow me to see how she coped with a change of environment. The spa was only a few hours’ drive from her home. We shared a room, so I could make sure she was safe and reassure her if she woke up confused in the middle of the night. I didn’t bank on her seeing other guests in robes and thinking she was in hospital. The break didn’t go well. She became increasingly agitated in what she perceived to be a threatening environment and, after a few heated moments, I made the decision to bring her home a day early. Once she was back in her own home, she was fine and calm was restored.

Each situation is different and each person living with dementia will have different experiences and deal with situations differently. Some might love the idea of going away and it may work well if you take them to a familiar resort you’ve visited before, especially if it has significant meaning for both of you. Just be careful when making plans.

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