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Sticking to a Routine: The Key to a Happy, Healthy Life for Seniors

A daily routine is an excellent way for seniors to maintain a healthy lifestyle and enjoy life to the fullest. Adding a consistent structure to your day can benefit people of any age but is especially important to seniors’ physical and mental health. Recently my business partner, 30 years younger than me, started discussing her new sleep routine and the many ways it is helping her. Routines provide predictability, which can help anyone feel more secure and in control of their lives as well as develop good habits and stick to them. But remember, routines aren’t all business – there should be plenty of time scheduled for activities that foster joy and keep life rich and meaningful.  

Man driving a car and showing thumbs up

How to Create a Routine that Brings Joy

Setting up a routine is empowering and creates a sense of control, which is important as older adults may not have the same control over physical ability and mobility. Keep in mind that the routine is not meant to be a strict schedule, but rather a foundation for structure and predictability. 

Get senior input: The main goal of a routine is to meet the needs of your senior loved one, so getting their input is key. The routine should center on their needs and consider their unique abilities, desires, and interests. As an adult child, you may be able to help them find many different opportunities available to them. Be sure to go over the details of what they want their days to look like. Putting too many activities into each day can cause frustration, so working on a plan together is essential. 

Set realistic goals: Focus on the “can,” not the “can’t,” and modify activities as needed. Setting realistic goals makes them more achievable and enjoyable. For example, improving mobility or increasing physical activity gradually is better than pushing their limits right out of the gate. Measuring progress along the way will let you know when to make changes.  For instance, chair exercise can be a great way to start getting more fit, perhaps with the goal of standing more, or maybe chair volleyball.

Start with a simple routine: It doesn’t have to be complicated or overscheduled. Start by including essential activities such as meals, medication, hobbies, and exercise. As seniors become more comfortable with the routine, more activities can be added or rearranged.

Include enjoyable activities: Routines don’t have to be boring. Focus on activities they enjoy, such as reading, gardening, walking, or, spending time with loved ones.  Social engagements can brighten a senior’s day and improve health, so make sure to include time for the things they love. 

Be flexible: Allow choice in the routine to make changes as needed to accommodate unexpected events or be spontaneous. Maybe Tuesday was forecasted to be rainy but turned out to be bright and sunny, You take a rain check on your craft day and start the herb garden instead. Appointments, visits with family and friends, and special outings all fall under this category, too. 

Prioritize nutrition: A well-balanced diet should be part of any daily routine because it supports overall health and energy levels. Regularly spaced meals help control and maintain blood sugar levels, which is especially important for seniors with diabetes.  

Make a schedule: A schedule allows seniors to manage parts of their routine, feel more in control, and reduce stress. Writing reminders where seniors can see them, setting timers so they know when to exercise, and making to-do lists for tasks such as grooming, and errands can help seniors keep track of their daily activities.  This is a great way to help with memory and give back some power to our senior loved ones.

Benefits of a Routine for Seniors

Routines that incorporate joy while also creating predictability have several other noteworthy benefits, such as:

Reduces stress and anxiety: As older adults begin to deal with health issues, they may feel stressed and anxious. A routine lets seniors know what to expect each day, making them less likely to feel overwhelmed or anxious.  As I mentioned earlier, my business partner did simple things like set out her clothes for the next day and prep her breakfast.  This allowed her more time in the morning to eat, and be with her family as they started their day.

Increases feeling of safety and security: With the many changes that come with aging, seniors may experience intense emotions. If they are unsure of what the future holds, a routine can make them feel confident and safe by providing a familiar and predictable environment. It also makes it easier to plan activities with family and friends.

Improves sleep: A set routine can help regulate the body's internal clock, making falling and staying asleep easier. Sleep quality directly affects energy, memory, and overall health. Establishing a daily routine can help lower anxiety and stress so older adults get better sleep and are generally healthier and feel better—hey this can work!

Helps manage symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer's: For seniors with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, routines can be beneficial. These conditions have less impact on the area of the brain that controls procedural memory, so it’s easier for those with these conditions to remember and follow routines. Familiar routines can create a sense of comfort and reduce confusion and anxiety.

Sample Routine

Need help getting started? Here’s a sample daily routine outline to use as a starting point:

Morning:

  • Wake up at the same time every day
  • Drink a glass of water
  • Take any necessary medication
  • Eat a healthy breakfast

Afternoon:

  • Go for a walk or do some light exercise
  • Have lunch
  • Take a nap or rest for an activity or hobby

Evening:

  • Prepare a healthy dinner
  • Spend time with loved ones, socialize over the phone/virtual video meetup
  • Engage in relaxing activities such as reading
  • Take any necessary medication
  • Go to bed at the same time every night

Give the Routine a Test Run

Giving the routine a test run allows everyone involved, from caregivers to seniors, to see if it supports the needs and goals as expected. A few small changes may be in order—adding something here, taking something away there, or moving activities from the morning to the afternoon. The routine may need to change over time, so regular reevaluation will let you know if it still achieving the goal.

Keeping active and involved

Maintaining control of their routine might also allow seniors to stay living at home for as long as possible. This may eventually involve a little help from the family or a professional service like Comfort Keepers. Utilizing In-home care services, when the time is right, is something that potentially can reduce or eliminate the need for more expensive care from an assisted living facility, memory care or nursing home.

References:https://alzheimersproject.org/the-importance-of-routine-and-familiarity-to-persons-with-dementia/
https://alzheimersproject.org/the-importance-of-routine-and-familiarity-to-persons-with-dementia/https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/good-nights-sleep
https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/good-nights-sleep



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