The Benefits of Routines for People With Dementia

How Consistent Schedules Can Help in Alzheimer's Disease

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Because Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia can make it difficult to learn new things, maintaining established, consistent routines can be calming and reassuring, for both the person with dementia and those around them.

Routines are often associated with our procedural memory (how we do things) and long-term memory. So, since Alzheimer's typically first affects the short-term memory, people are often able to remember a familiar routine well into the middle stages of Alzheimer's.

An older couple eating breakfast together
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In the early stages of dementia, people may be very well aware of routines and they may verbally object if that routine is ​altered. In the middle stages of dementia, routines often consist of an almost automatic physical motion, such as brushing your teeth.

Types of Daily Routines

Routines are the things that happen regularly, often daily. Examples include eating breakfast, reading the newspaper in the morning, getting your hair done on Fridays, drying the dishes after lunch, going for walks every evening, or setting the table for dinner.

Routines may also consist of the order in which tasks are completed. If you're getting ready for bed, you might start by walking into the bathroom and then proceed with brushing your teeth, using the toilet, washing your hands, and going to bed.

In building a routine for someone with dementia, you should include activities that require physical exercise, such as a morning walk, and activities that may fall into a more therapeutic category, such as music, art, or puzzles.

Benefits of Routines in Dementia

A good routine will provide structure to the day, balancing time for physical activity and rest, social interaction, and stimulating and soothing activities. Here are more benefits of established routines:

  • They help maintain abilities. Regularly practicing an activity, whether it's physical or mental task, can help a person maintain their functional abilities as their dementia progresses.
  • They reduce anxiety. The predictability of a routine can decrease anxiety. Someone with dementia may feel more comfortable and confident knowing what to expect.
  • They decrease caregiver stress. Routines can lessen the strain on those caring for people with dementia by making the day more organized and possibly decreasing the chance of challenging behaviors.
  • They allow for some independence. Activities that have been practiced regularly, such as folding the laundry, can increase self-esteem and confidence because the person can perform them independently.

Tips for Setting Routines

Routines are about keeping things predictable so the person with dementia isn't overwhelmed with too many decisions, unfamiliar activities, and changing schedules. Some ways to do that include:

  • Keep choices simple. Offer one or two options at mealtime, or stick with the same menu each day or week. Stock their wardrobe with a few favorite outfits.
  • Work with their schedule and abilities. Determine what times of day they function best, when they like to be active or need rest, and what tasks they can manage independently or with help.
  • Keep plenty of clocks and calendars handy. Easy-to-read clocks and calendars can help ease confusion. so your loved one knows what time it is and what to expect next.
  • Balance activities and rest. Pay attention to signs of becoming overly tired or irritable and dial back as needed.
  • Don't be afraid of repetition. Performing the same activities can help the person feel competent and in control.

Consistent Caregivers in Care Facilities

In care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living, it's possible to have a different person every day caring for those living with dementia. However, as much as possible, it's important to staff a care facility with consistent caregivers, as opposed to constantly rotating caregivers. This allows a trusting relationship to develop between the staff member and the resident, which has a host of benefits for all involved.

Consistent caregivers can potentially prevent or reduce challenging behaviors by knowing how best to respond to their residents. These caregivers can also quickly notice if their residents might be sick or if something is just "not quite right" because they know their residents so well.

A Word From Verywell

There's certainly no "one size fits all" path in the journey of dementia care, but establishing and practicing routines can be a helpful approach to optimize functioning and quality of life, both for those living with dementia as well as for their loved ones and caregivers.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Wisconsin Health. Daily routines for a person with dementia.

  2. Alzheimer's Association. Daily care plan.

  3. Alzheimer's Association Campaign for Quality Residential Care. Dementia care practice recommendations for assisted living residences and nursing homes.

Additional Reading

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.