We learn young that routines can be very important. Just think back to your days of infancy and recall those dependable moments, when you just knew mom was going to feed you or bathe you. Too far back? Truth is, few of us can remember life before five years of age and the older we get, the harder it is to think back even to that. Life seems to form in layers, almost like the rings of a great tree when counting back becomes ponderous the longer we live. That the memory is clear or not isn’t exactly the point; the vague feeling that we did experience an established routine at the sure hands of our mother, or father, or other caregiver, sets us into a mode of comfortable nostalgia, even when recall is foggy.
It’s that sense of comfort that a daily routine can inspire in the elderly who require a caregiver’s assistance as they go through their day. The daily routine becomes familiar, actions to be counted on, and certainty in a world that is not always so certain, especially not anymore. The reliance on such timed structure is inherent and reinforced as infants; while we don’t actively remember it, our brains are designed never to forget. Like a great oak the activities are etched into us, part of our history, even part of our living pattern, and become a kind of anchor. From infancy to senior citizen, we still count on routines to establish a sense of normalcy and defining, and our personal care is no different.
Routines Establish Time
It may sound odd at first, but routines help establish a sense of time and progression that can become rooted in our subconscious. Just ask someone who has quit smoking recently after many years of it: the pattern of when to have a cigarette and the time it takes to smoke one gets so ingrained that when a person first quits, timing seems completely off even through the whole day. Something feels like it’s missing, they might lament. Like I’m forgetting something. The brain equated action and time and the amount of time needed. We learn to structure our day and feel its passing through such set motions. It’s no different for an individual who needs assisted living, help with daily tasks.
As we age our ability to sense the passing of time changes from when we were younger. Time drags by as a youth; it flies by as an adult. The established pattern of waking up, taking a shower, getting a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper while eating a warm bagel sets the pace of the day and our internal clock. If your routine for the morning is rushed or parts are missing the rest of the day seems completely thrown off. The day does not often go very well. A schedule is known to be important to a child just establishing a grasp of life and her own limits; it’s no less so as an elderly adult.
Routines in Caregiving
When we shift into senior health care situations, which may not even be noticed truth be told, life might start moving at warp speed. We begin to tightly hold to routines that empower us with a sense of control, a sense of pacing. It begins in the morning when we wake up, sets the pace for the day, and a pattern we know sees us to bed in the evening.
Routines are a sense of security and an important one. Caregivers often understand that a pattern of events helps ease frustration as abilities become limited, and they can even keep a sense of independence in a person’s life. It isn’t just that though; sometimes it truly is a memory anchor. Consider for a moment those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The use of early memories or experiences is powerful. It’s short-term memory that is most affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s so the further back into the past a caregiver can go, the easier for a sufferer of dementia to grasp the action. If new patterns are introduced they may be met with resistance, confusion and even anger. This is true of anyone, not just those with cognitive impairment, but it seems almost cruel to alter an action that has been in motion for twenty years and has become familiar. Especially when so much is becoming unfamiliar as the disease progresses. Each person has times of the day when they are capable of more than other times; it is important for a caregiver to assess these times and make note of when a charge is more able to perform a certain function.
Keeping the process simple and uncomplicated can be a huge boon depending on the situation. Regardless of cognitive state it’s the consistency that brings comfort, a certainty of action, not a rigid timeslot. Everyone has his or her rituals; habits developed over time and often by design. Engaging in these brings a sense of inner peace and alignment; they are as important to people in older age as they are to those just coming into the world. Humans are hard-wired to need structure and routine, a requirement that never fades, and the interruption of such processes can cause serious turmoil emotionally and physically. If you have a preferred routine, make certain to let your caregiver know. Alternatively, if you can speak for another who has a preferred routine but can’t easily verbalize it, let her caregiver know. Stability is a comfort and we all need that in life at every stage.
Author Bio: Sarah-Elizabeth R comes from a long line of professional writers. Her extensive experience writing for various online and in print publications has given Sarah a distinct style which showcases her writing as unique, versatile, and personal. She is currently the head writer for the senior living directory, Sharp Seniors, where she writes on the important issues facing today’s aging population.