All people benefit from routine — it provides a sense of comfort and helps us feel in control of our lives and our surroundings — and loved ones suffering from dementia are no different. In fact, routine is incredibly important for them. For memory care patients, any deviation from a daily regimen can cause anxiety because changes disrupt the things loved ones know and rely upon amid the uncertainty they feel.
The benefits of routine memory care underscore the importance of dementia care plans. Even slight modifications to the daily schedule — for example, exercising in the morning instead of the afternoon — can lead to more stress for your loved one, and that stress tends to compound itself, thus throwing off the schedule more, which leads to more stress, and so on. Dementia care plans can ultimately help those dealing with memory issues thrive because it ensures they spend less time anxious and more time enjoying as active a life as their conditions permit.
Care plans for dementia will vary for each memory care patient, but all plans should include several important things to drive routine and activity. Here are 10 of those crucial elements. Note that these must not necessarily follow this order (but of course, breakfast should be in the morning and dinner in the evening). Most importantly, as previously mentioned, any plan should be tailored to your loved one’s individual needs.
Meals can often be stressful for those with memory care issues; foods might not taste the same as they once did, food preparation might be challenging, and, depending on the severity of the dementia, the mere physical act of eating could be more difficult. Nutrition is vital for these seniors, especially considering that memory care patients are at added risk for losing weight, so a care plan for dementia should pay special attention to meals. A good breakfast is a healthy start to anyone’s morning, and for those dealing with memory problems, it is a solid foundation for the routine that minimizes anxiety for the rest of the day.
2. Personal Care
Personal care can include everything from basic tasks (e.g., getting dressed in the morning) to hygiene (e.g., bathing, brushing teeth) to beauty (e.g., putting on makeup and styling hair). Besides maintaining health and keeping a regular schedule, personal care offers memory care patients the opportunity to feel clean and attractive.
3. Events and Activities
Just because someone is dealing with dementia issues doesn’t mean they have lost all creativity. Painting, drawing, crafting, knitting or crocheting, writing, and playing music are wonderful activities that help memory care patients hone their creative skills and break up the monotony of the day that many seniors unfortunately feel.
There should also be the opportunity to get out in nature, especially during the morning or evening hours. Look for opportunities to participate in such things as walking clubs, meditation, or quiet time in the community’s courtyard — or even gardening.
Besides being an anchor to the midday, lunch is a social meal — a chance to interact with friends. Moreover, depending on the senior’s care situation, lunch could involve some sort of meal preparation, whether it is making and serving food or just cleaning up afterward. In this way, lunch becomes more than a meal: It is an activity that is an important driver of the day.
It is important to keep in mind that nutrition is key to maintaining health as we age, but nutrition can be especially crucial for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. A care plan should address any nutritional challenges and offer realistic and flexible solutions that allow the resident to maintain dignity while receiving the nutrition they need to stay healthy.
5. Movement and Exercise
Staying physically active not only contributes to overall health but also improves mental well-being and fits into the all-important routine. Exercise such as yoga, water aerobics, and gardening offer variety, but even a daily walk as part of a care plan for dementia will yield health benefits.
Any exercise opportunities should be based on each individual’s needs, abilities, and preferences. Although it might seem like a walk is great for everyone, some residents living with dementia may need assistance or an adapted approach in order to make that walk effective and comfortable. These adaptations should be listed on the care plan.
6. Time to Relax
A memory care patient’s day can’t be too jam-packed; it should include time to simply wind down. This relaxation could include napping, listening to an audiobook, looking through a family photo album, or listening to music.
Not all seniors living with dementia will be able to relax on their own. Look for dementia care plans that offer specific, person-centered interventions based on past interests. For example, one resident may need to be handed their photo album after lunch as a cue to sit down and relax.
Although some seniors struggle with remembering things in the short term, their long-term memories might still be intact. Setting time aside in a care plan for dementia to reminisce — whether by looking at old pictures and videos or telling stories from the past — helps fire up the brain and improve cognitive functions. Reminiscing also provides comfort: The present may not always be certain, but memories of past good times can be reassuring.
8. Cognitive Activities
Many seniors are still able to engage in intellectual pursuits, which keeps their cognitive skills sharp. Crosswords, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, and solitaire are fun intellectual activities for seniors, as are card and board games, which also introduce an important social aspect into the equation. Moreover, many favorite games and puzzles, as well as apps specially designed for memory care patients, are available as smartphone applications.
The primary meal of the day, dinner offers a chance for nourishment and social interaction while also signaling that the day is winding down. Many seniors look forward to not only enjoying dinner but also preparing the meal if able. The care plan should address any adaptive equipment or interventions to ensure the resident has the most independent and dignified experience possible.
10. Evening Activities
The time after dinner is a crucial part of a care plan for dementia because it offers a chance for loved ones to relax and prepare for the next day. Listening to audiobooks, calling or Skyping family, taking an evening walk, or enjoying the company of friends can help memory care patients wind down after an eventful day. The care plan should address any successful and person-centered activities that create a comfortable and peaceful evening, especially if the person tends to become anxious in the afternoon or evening hours.
As already stated, plans will vary by the person — aside from meals and personal care, no one activity is more important than another when developing a routine for loved ones. What is most important is that caregivers identify a plan that works best while being flexible but careful when making changes to it.
To learn more about dementia care, check out our guide: The Caregiver's Complete Guide to Alzheimer's and Dementia Care.