The Importance of Routine for The Elderly


You probably go about much of your day on autopilot: Get up. Start the coffee. Brush your teeth. Shower. Wash your hair. Wash your hair again and then wonder if you washed your hair.

Despite your excessively clean hair, routine is very important. It allows us to get things done efficiently without expelling inordinate amounts of energy.

Not that I recommend it, but you can navigate your house and find almost anything your looking for with your eyes closed. The tactile skill used to differentiate the coffee spoon from the coffee mug is called stereognosis. (Technically defined as the ability to perceive the form of solid objects by touch.) The ability to move about your house in the dark without tripping over a chair is based on the muscle memory created by routinely moving about your house in the light.

We thrive on consistency and repetition. Familiarity provides stability. We depend on that equilibrium and are acutely aware when it’s disrupted unexpectedly. An accident, illness or other crisis derails our foundation and can swiftly turn our lives upside down.

Although everyone benefits from consistent schedules the elderly rely on routine and the stability it provides perhaps more than any other age bracket. Familiar footing provides comfort.

As much as I hate to admit it, although she was amazing, I have become my mother. I remember her and my dad balking at the “newfangled gadgets”. Typically, they liked the old oven, thermostat, perk coffee maker etc. more than their replacements because they were familiar.

Plowing through the paper owners’ manuals, now replaced by on-line instructions, takes time and concentration. Once set up, using the new appliance/device also requires developing a new routine. Consider the marked advances in technology, mobile phones and impending autonomous cars, leaving many of us struggling just to keep up.

“Old Dog-New Tricks”

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s is an individual’s inability to learn new information. In the early stages when a person’s behaviors are ambiguous and a clear diagnosis of Alzheimer’s unlikely, new experiences may be threatening, not enjoyable. Besides struggling to understand how to use a new microwave or door locks, changes in surroundings and routine can create havoc.

A significant reason that people resist moving from their home into a senior or assisted living center, is in part due to the stability they experience in familiar surroundings and daily routines. Eventually however, their compromised physical and/or mental condition may necessitate a relocation to keep them safe. The move itself can be overwhelming even if it’s unavoidable. Although there are many strategies that can minimize the emotional fallout of relocation, it’s unsettling for the individual being moved.

My mother’s relocation from her senior apartment into an assisted living center due to Alzheimer’s was tantamount to a train wreck. I did everything right to transition my mom, flawlessly preparing every detail. But despite my efforts, she completely unraveled. Mom was so angry in fact, she threatened to move “back home” and kicked me in the butt, all under dementia’s mind control.

Her assisted living center implemented consistency in routine from the onset. Everyone was dressed in the morning, with the necessary help. Everyone went to breakfast, lunch or dinner. Transitioning to evening activities and bed time were a constant also.

Although my mother’s adjustment was fraught with drama and fall-out, I applaud the importance of implementing consistent schedules and routine. It was the only stability in her failing life as overpowering Alzheimer’s took hold.

The elderly, especially compromised by illness, do not adapt well to significant changes. When modifications to their environment are imperative for safety, plan ahead and implement as much familiarity and consistency of routine as possible. There will likely be emotional collapse but with patience and time, most adverse reactions will level off.

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Elaine C.Pereira

About Elaine C.Pereira

Elaine retired in June 2010 as a school Occupational Therapist where she worked with special needs children. She lives in southeastern Michigan with her husband, Joe. Between them, they have five children — Joe has three sons and Elaine has twin daughters-and soon-to-be five grandchildren. Elaine has a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy from Wayne State University. Elaine is the author of I Will Never Forget and she was inspired to tell her mother’s incredible story in part to help other caregivers coping with memory loss issues in their loved ones. I Will Never Forget

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