Most of us are uncomfortable when faced with the unknown. We feel safe when we can anticipate what will happen next in our lives. For many seniors, this feeling is magnified. Following familiar routines gives structure to their day which in turn leads to feelings of comfort and calm. Certain routines or daily habits, even those as simple as taking a bath and eating meals at the same time each day, or using the same special cup or blanket, may help our clients and older family members feel secure. Having a routine provides order and predictability.
In the article, Why a Daily Routine is Important for Seniors, published on the DailyCaring website, the author writes, “As someone loses control over their physical abilities, independence, or cognitive abilities, their world becomes filled with more and more unknowns. That’s why having a regular daily routine helps both seniors and caregivers.” When caregivers provide the type of structure that creates a level of predictability, seniors are less likely to feel disoriented or uncertain. Knowing what to expect reduces stress and anxiety and enhances feelings of safety and calm.
Having a routine “means doing the same basic activities around the same time every day,” states the DailyCaring article. Having a routine makes it easier to remember if your older adult has done necessary things like take medicine, use the bathroom, drink water, and eat. The article suggests that “following a daily routine can reduce stress, increase the feeling of security, and improve sleep.” One example of a daily routine would be to wake up at 9:00 a.m., go to the bathroom, brush teeth, wash face and hands, change from pajamas into daytime clothes, and sit down to eat breakfast and take medication. Offering the same favorite breakfast foods, the same comfortable chair, the same favorite teacup, takes the idea of a routine a step further. It turns teeth brushing and breakfast eating into a daily ritual which makes it easier for the senior to remember. It also makes it easier to document the senior’s schedule when there is a change in caregivers.
Many seniors have difficulty falling and staying asleep. It is known that as we age, changes that occur naturally in the body’s biological clock can lead to sleep disruption and reduced sleep quality. In the WedMD article, Daily Routines Help Seniors Sleep Better, the author shares results of a study that suggests seniors who follow daily routines may be able to counteract the disruption. The author writes that for seniors “doing the same basic activities, like eating, dressing, and bathing at the same time every day, improves sleep quality.” Improvement here means taking less time to fall asleep and experiencing higher sleep efficiency (the amount of time in bed spent asleep).
Establishing and maintaining a familiar routine is particularly important for individuals living with dementia. In Why a Daily Routine is Helpful for People with Dementia on the AgingCare website, the author quotes Holly Hart, L.V.N. who says that people suffering from memory loss “thrive on familiarity. Familiar faces, a familiar environment, even familiar food—anything they can use as a touchstone.”
Because people with dementia have difficulty learning new things, the article suggests that “a predictable routine can prevent a person with dementia from becoming distracted and forgetting what they were doing.” Furthermore, “a daily agenda may even be able to help a person with Alzheimer’s cope with the short-term memory loss that is typically one of the first things to be affected by the disease.” This is because establishing a habit or predictable way of doing things “can help transfer the schedule of a daily routine into the long-term memory portion of the brain, helping a person retain their ability to perform activities of daily life, such as brushing their teeth or fixing a snack.”
The benefits of establishing and maintaining a routine is an important aspect of caring for seniors. Routines can help maintain function, reduce stress (in both the senior and their caregiver), and allow for improved sleep and ultimately, greater independence.