Dementia is a devastating illness for both the patient and loved ones.
Watching someone slowly lose their memory and sense of self is not for the faint of heart, and unfortunately we often don’t have control over such a difficult circumstance. Research has shown that regular routines may help with dementia care – making everyday life easier for both the afflicted individual as well as their caregivers.
When mapping out a regular routine, remember it is difficult for the ill person to accept help at times. Like all of us, they have lived a life of independence and the loss of that self-sufficiency is very frustrating. However it is important to their health and well-being that basics are taken care of every day, including eating and basic hygiene.
A recent study has come out of Taiwan stating that regular meals are especially important for those suffering from dementia. This fixed eating schedule will not only improve their physical health, but also keep symptoms of depression at bay. The research focused on 63 dementia patients who were trained to focus on regular eating routines while 27 other patients received more mainstream personal care. The two focus groups then received a physical and mental evaluation at both the start of the study and six months later. Those who were coached in regular eating habits exhibited dramatically lower counts of depression and also were found in better physical health.
Why are these simple daily routines so important in dementia care? One speculation is that controlling the little things equals a more positive outlook for the large obstacles a dementia patient faces. If an individual feels as if they can be independently responsible for remembering when to eat or bathe, they receive a boost of self-confidence in regards to battling their disease. A regimented daily routine may also reduce the symptoms of dementia by keeping the body and mind in top shape.
If you plan to work with your loved one on a daily routine plan, there are a few things to remember. First and foremost, a set routine should stay consistent. Changing the routine midweek will only bring about confusion and frustration. Keep stress as limited as possible (a hallmark of dementia care) by making the routine clear, concise and consistent.
Break down every task into simple steps. For example, set an alarm for meal times and then have patience as the individual goes to the kitchen, prepares a meal and eats. Notes and pre-prepared food makes the process simpler.
It’s also important to limit options without taking choices away altogether. Reduce confusion and fatigue by having the individual opt between two things instead of several. Also, choose things you know they enjoy – favorite flavors of yogurt, two brands of cookies, etc.
Setting routines can work well in a variety of life circumstances including not only eating but also recreation, fitness, visits with friends and family and personal hygiene. Observe what your loved one struggles with, and work with their caretaker to map out a solid plan. Then, all that is left is to celebrate the victory they feel when able to complete a step by step process independently.