A clear plan for each day can make life much easier for a person with Alzheimer’s — and for you as a caregiver, too. By making a plan for what you’ll do each day, and breaking down each activity into manageable steps, you’ll preserve your loved one’s sense of independence and support their positive mental health. Consistency is also key for minimizing anxiety and restlessness, which will help prevent problematic behaviors like wandering.
As you personalize your loved one’s schedule around their unique needs and interests, you’ll want to be sure to include some exercise, social interaction, outdoor time, and mentally stimulating activities like games and puzzles. It’s generally a good idea to stick to consistent times for getting up, eating meals, taking medications, and going to bed — though it’s also important to build in some flexibility in case unforeseen circumstances arise.
Here’s an overall breakdown of activities worth including on your daily care plan, along with some tips on making these tasks more easy and enjoyable for your loved one.
Start each day with a hygiene routine, followed by some relaxing activities.
The best way to start the morning is with the familiar routine of brushing teeth, using the bathroom, and getting dressed and groomed. Since these are extremely personal activities, your loved one may want to handle them independently — and that’s actually a great idea, as long as they’re able to do so. As the disease progresses, however, you’ll increasingly need to help your loved one step-by-step through tooth-brushing and toileting.
Some people like to bathe in the morning, while others find it a relaxing way to unwind toward the end of the day. Whichever your loved one prefers, give them as much privacy and control as possible — by letting them clean themselves as long as they’re able to; or, if you’re bathing them, by placing towels on their lap and shoulders, then cleaning underneath with a sponge or showerhead. If your loved one tends to get anxious, try playing soft music during a bath or shower, and talk to them gently throughout each step.
Choosing an outfit can sometimes be frustrating for a person with Alzheimer’s; but you can make it easier by laying out clothes, then letting your loved one get dressed on their own. An interest in personal grooming is a very positive sign — so if your loved one wants to shave and/or put on makeup, you’ll want to encourage these habits as much as you can while keeping your loved one safe. For example, it’s a good idea to skip the eyeliner pencils, and use an electric razor instead of a bladed one.
If your loved one likes making breakfast, and is able to help, get them involved in the process as much as possible. Keep the meal calm and distraction-free, and allow your loved one to eat at their own pace — though you may occasionally need to remind them to chew and swallow. After breakfast, many caregivers feel the need for a break. During that quiet time, your loved one may enjoy reading a book or newspaper, doing a puzzle, or working on a small craft project.
Try some outdoor activities in the afternoon — or visit with friends and family.
Preparing lunch can be another fun opportunity to get your loved one involved in a familiar activity. As with breakfast, it’s important to avoid distractions during lunch, and give your loved one plenty of time to finish at their own speed. After post-lunch cleanup, the afternoon is a perfect time for exercise, light chores, socializing, or listening to music and flipping through old photos to take a stroll down memory lane.
Physical exercise is crucial for your loved one’s health, and can even slow the onset of dementia symptoms. So make time every day to take a walk outside, do some gardening, or work together on chores like dusting, sweeping and folding laundry. It’s also important to provide daily mental stimulation, in the form of puzzles, word and card games, and social interaction with friends and family members. If a certain activity leads to stress or frustration, don’t worry — just skip it for now, and consider trying again later.
Many people with Alzheimer’s find it therapeutic to revisit their happy memories of the past. Put on a playlist of songs from your loved one’s younger days, and they may join you in singing along. Look through old family photos, and they may tell you stories you’ve never heard before. Watching a favorite movie can be another comfortable way to spend a quiet afternoon — and while your loved one relaxes in front of the TV, you can take a break or a nap.
In the evening, create a quiet atmosphere and focus on winding down for bed.
The hours starting at dusk are often an especially anxious time for people with Alzheimer’s. You can help prevent “sundowning” stress by involving your loved one in dinner prep, and keeping their mind occupied after the meal with relaxing activities like playing cards, doing crossword and word-search puzzles, reading books, and reminiscing about favorite memories.
During the evening hygiene routine, give your loved one as much help as they need — and as much privacy as is safe and practical. An evening bath can be a perfect way to wind down for the night. Once your loved one is tucked in bed, you might like to read to them from a favorite book, or play some relaxing music. If darkness makes them anxious, a nightlight in the bedroom can make it easier to fall asleep.
Throughout each day of caring for your loved one, patience and flexibility will help you maintain the stability and structure they need, while minimizing any stress they might experience. It’s important to keep in mind that you’re caring for yourself, too — so remember to take breaks, get exercise and sleep, and set aside time for your own friends, hobbies and interests. After all, you need rest, recreation and social interaction to be at your best, just as your loved one does.
And even if you’ve decided to serve as the main in-home caregiver, there’s no shame in asking for help from your family and support group members. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can quickly turn into a full-time job, and it’s going to become a 24/7 job as the disease progresses. For now, though, a consistent plan of daily care will make your life simpler — and help you make the most of each day you spend with your loved one.