Allow me to reiterate something you already have heard, read, been told — if you can establish a routine for a person with dementia, it lowers the stress level, improves attention span and behavior and is an all-around good thing. By “routine” I don’t mean every day has to be exactly the same, but it should be predictable and easily recalled. If one’s brain is not working well and life is confusing even on a good day, removing one source of anxiety — what’s going to happen next — calms things down.
I am pleased to report that in our household we had a routine and were feeling pretty proud of ourselves until oh, about 18 months ago. It incorporated the habits I have written about previously: enough sleep, minimal stress, exercise, social interaction, learning new things, eating right. Our days were full, but predictable and relaxed.
Well, that got blown out of the water. Twice. First in March 2020, when the COVID shutdown started and our travels came to a screeching halt. It took a couple of months to work out how to live life in a safe, socially-distanced kind of way, but we developed a new pattern: Early morning for waking up slowly, reading, writing, meditating. Late morning for exercise, either swimming or walking. Lunch or conversation on the porch with a friend, afternoon quiet, and a game or a puzzle before dinner. In the midst of COVID our life had a rhythm that lowered the family stress level and we both improved. Tracey’s cognitive strength improved — she began to manage her own calendar, make her own appointments and to remember them without my help.
Then in early February 2021 we got our vaccines, most of our friends started getting theirs, too, and we were so busy socializing that our routine fell apart again. We are eating more and exercising less and have a few extra pounds to show for it. Although having more social interaction is very good for the brain, it has also brought more stress and less sleep. We are both back to worrying whether we forgot to write an appointment or dinner date on the calendar (we did) and did we even look at the calendar to see what was on it today? (we didn’t).
All summer long, we have not been able to salvage it. I keep thinking it shouldn’t be so difficult but I just can’t get myself back on track. Tracey is doing better than I am: she plays golf two mornings a week, weather and the mosquitoes permitting, and she still makes her own play dates. The trouble is, she is scheduling herself (and us) at the rate we used to pace ourselves Before Covid, and neither one of us has the stamina we did then. She gets confused and anxious when she is tired. I get crabby. Bad combination.
Moral of the story: do as I say, not as I do and figure out a routine that works for you and your beloved, and don’t let COVID or anybody else mess it up.
Alzheimer’s Association has some good advice on how to set up your routine. Click here for more information.