8 Tips for Creating a Routine for Dementia Patients

Beth Rush - Guest Contributor

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Every day can be chaotic and confusing for people with dementia. Caregivers often feel overwhelmed with their new responsibilities of helping their loved ones. Without appropriate planning, the days fly by in a blur of medication, baths and worry.

However, it’s possible to take back some control. You can help ease their anxieties and bring a small sense of normalcy to both of your lives by integrating routines.

Why Do Routines Help in Dementia Care?

People living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia lose short-term memory first, making it more difficult to accomplish daily tasks and keep track of where and when they are.

Despite the regression in their short-term memory, long-term memory lasts well into the middle and late stages of the condition. You can use this to your advantage and their benefit.

Consistent adherence to routines makes them automatic and moves them into long-term memory. Setting a schedule and creating habits with your loved one will take some burdens off you and grant them more independence.

Reasons to Create a Routine

You’ll find no downside to establishing routines as part of your dementia care plan. Incorporating them as soon after the diagnosis as possible will be the most beneficial for both of you.

Maintain Skills

People can lose just about any skill if they don’t practice it, especially those with dementia. Patients with the condition rapidly forget their abilities if they don’t use them regularly.

Creating a routine where they shower, brush their teeth, get dressed and do other essential activities at least semi-independently helps them maintain those skills. Otherwise, as their caregiver, you’ll have to take over basic tasks as they lose the ability to do them.

Reduce Caregiver Load

Most caregivers have difficulty thinking of their own needs, choosing to consistently put their loved ones first. However, you need to take care of yourself. You won’t be any good to them when you’re burned out and frustrated.

Setting a routine where they complete certain tasks independently can give you a few minutes to sit down and relax. You could watch a favorite TV show on your phone while they brush their teeth or read a chapter of a book while they take a bath.

It makes sense to stay nearby and keep a ready ear, but being less physically hands-on will give you a little breathing room.

Keep Them More Independent

Losing independence is incredibly frustrating for people with dementia, especially those who are used to being active or living independently. In the early and middle stages of the disease, your loved one may even resent your help and act out.

Helping them establish a routine and including them in that process will grant them a sense of independence again. They’ll be able to do more things on their own and have a little control over their life.

Lessen Patient Anxiety

Routines and habits are essential for anyone needing more structure in their life. Knowing what you’ll do each day eases anxiety and helps you be more present.

The same is true for patients with dementia. They struggle to remember where they are, what day it is and who’s next to them. All these issues add up to extreme anxiety and fear, but a set schedule is familiar and can have a calming effect.

What Does a Dementia Care Routine Look Like?

The dementia care routine should look as similar to your loved one’s pre-dementia life as possible. If they already had a set morning or evening regimen, using it now will make it more likely to stick as the condition progresses.

You could set up routines around essential daily tasks, morning and evening activities, or the whole day. Creating a schedule for the entire day will serve as a reminder to vary things, providing opportunities for rest, exercise and stimulation. A well-rounded plan should involve all those essential components.

8 Tips for Creating a Routine for Dementia Patients


How do you create a routine for your loved one with dementia? What do you need to know to set up an effective schedule? Let these tips help you establish the ideal plan.

1 Give Them a Say

It’s best to start soon after their diagnosis or on a lucid day. This way, your loved one can help you create a schedule that fits their interests and desires. It will also give them a sense of control when everything else seems chaotic and unfamiliar.

2 Watch Their Patterns

If their condition is advanced to the point where they can’t help you create a routine, try to remember any they may have had before their diagnosis:

  • Can you recall any portions of their morning or evening regimens?
  • When you started taking care of your loved ones, did they have preferences for doing certain tasks and specific times of the day?

Any commonalities you can keep will encourage them to adhere to the schedule and bring a sense of calming familiarity.

3 Include Exercise

Exercise is a critical component of any dementia patient care plan. It’s a mood booster and stress reducer that can improve brain function, decreasing the rate of memory loss.

Physical activity increases the number of dendrites in each neuron. The dendrites connect to other neurons in the brain, and more connections mean improved recall, problem-solving and decision-making.

4 Focus on Repetition

Completing the same tasks in order every day can give patients with dementia a sense of control. They know what will happen, so they have something to look forward to and expect. Even when everything else feels out of control, they have a tried-and-true routine to ground them.

5 Incorporate Fun Activities

Repetitive routines are important, but you should occasionally change up your loved one’s activities, offering new and fun alternatives to keep their mind and body active. One could be Memory Joggers to challenge and strengthen recall.

If you plan the whole day, set aside a few different time slots to rotate through their favorite pastimes, like taking a walk, chatting with friends, gardening or reading.

6 Remember Rest

Patients with advancing dementia may get tired more quickly than they used to. Plan rest breaks after any strenuous or exciting activities so they can recuperate. Otherwise, they’ll grow overtired and get irritable and difficult to manage.

You could also get a much-needed break while they relax or sleep.

7 Remain Flexible

Your loved one’s needs and abilities will change day to day. It’s important to keep the regimens as consistent as possible, but sometimes you must be willing to make changes.

They may require more rest one day or have a lucid moment and want to take advantage. Go easy on yourself and them by allowing some wiggle room within the routine.

8 Add Essential Tasks

At the bare minimum, you’ll want to create a schedule addressing all the essential daily tasks like brushing teeth, bathing, combing hair, getting dressed and so on. Processes like these can become automatic if repeated often enough.

Keep Them Home Longer With Routines

In the late stages of the disease, most people with dementia decline to the point where their caregivers can’t take care of them independently. You’ll need to hire a nurse to help or move them into a residential care facility.

However, if you integrate routines early on in their condition, the habit will keep them independent enough and prolong their time at home.

About the Author

Beth Rush

dementia and environment

Beth Rush

Beth Rush is the Managing Editor and Content Manager at Body+Mind.

Body+Mind features articles about diet, fitness, mental health, parenting and health care.




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