Find out why creating some structure in the daily life of the person you care for will help them to live better with dementia.

Everyone likes a certain amount of organisation in their daily life. It helps you feel on top of things and confident about what’s happening during the day, where things are and how to manage as best you can.

Never is this more relevant than when you’re caring for someone with dementia. Someone with the condition will not only struggle to remember names, dates, events and places, but they’ll also have difficulty making decisions and thinking rationally and logically, which could leave them feeling stressed, agitated and depressed.

However, helping someone with dementia to stay on top of daily life, remain organised and live with a certain degree of independence is possible once you know how to set out daily care plans and organise their home so they can get around it easily. Here are some tips to start…

Set up a routine

From when you’re a baby right through to your daily lives as adults, routine is something that can often provide comfort and security in an uncertain world. Always start the day with a cup of tea and the Today program? Perhaps you like to take a half hour walk after lunch each day? This could very well be the case for a loved one with dementia, and it’s something you need to think about if you’re caring for them.

It’s a good idea to have a care and activities plan in place which will detail activities and reminders for the person you’re caring for. So it can explain what they might want to get up to in the morning – a visit to the shops or a morning spent looking at old photographs, what time lunch will be, what they’ll do after lunch and any afternoon and evening activities.

While we can all get bored easily, expecting someone with dementia to change their routine regularly is asking a lot, and it’s better to keep things stable and predictable. If they’re used to playing bridge every Monday afternoon, don’t try to organise a doctor’s appointment at this time, as it will confuse them.

If you’re loved one has a professional carer coming in each day, care plans are vital documents that help provide information for them so they can provide the best level of care that’s personalised for that individual, and they’ll also use it to communicate details back to you.

It’s worth storing the care plan somewhere safe, such as a care plan box and keeping details of specific activities listed on a whiteboard in an obvious spot in the house.

Sign the way with labels

Signs and labels can be very useful for someone with dementia. They can be used to aid orientation, so if you’re loved on with dementia struggles to find their way to the bathroom or kitchen, it will help to show the way. It will also help them to find items that they need regularly.

Labels can also be useful as prompts to remind you to do something. For example, you could put notes up reminding someone to take their medication, have a snack or drink regularly, or that they’ll be expecting a visitor at a certain time.

Set up a large calendar somewhere obvious so that you’re loved one is able to tell the day and date. If they’re struggling to remember to take medication, a pill dispenser with built in reminder alarm could be helpful.

Putting up a list of important telephone numbers could be useful, so that you’re loved one knows who to call in an emergency.

A place for everything, and everything in its place

As dementia develops, your loved one may struggle to remember where things belong in the kitchen, or where they should find them. For example, if they can’t remember that mugs are in one cupboard, but the tea bags are in another cupboard, they may end up not bothering to make tea at all. This could ultimately impact on their health and wellbeing, as they’re putting off having a drink that could keep them hydrated.

That’s why it’s a good idea to put similar items together in same place. So the mugs, and tea bags should all be in an obvious space next to the kettle. Make sure you label all cupboards and storage areas (including places like the fridge, which may play host to strange items if it’s not always immediately clear – think the iron in the fridge, tea bags in the oven).

And if there are particular items that you're loved one with dementia uses regularly - slippers, spectacles, a book, walking stick - make sure they're easily to hand. They could be organised into baskets (with labels on the front to let them know where they are) and placed near a favourite chair.

Provide choice but reduce decisions

The above phrase may sound contradictory, but the idea is that you provide enough choice that the person with dementia doesn’t feel too restricted, but not so many decisions that they feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start.

For example, picking clothes and outfits can sometimes prove to be a difficult area for people with dementia. Often, they’ll be faced with a variety of different outfits in their wardrobe and not really know where to start, so they either put on exactly the same clothes as they were wearing the day before (and if this happens repeatedly will start to smell), or they’ll head out in the first clothes they see or ones that aren’t suitable, such as pyjamas or shorts and sandals in winter.

Instead, it’s better to provide a choice of two outfits, hung outside their wardrobe which is suitable for the season. That way, they still have choice, but not so much that making a decision will leave them agitated or stressed.

Ensure organisation is person-centred

Finally, however you help your loved one with dementia to stay organised, try to make sure that it is person-centred. When someone has dementia it's easy to just see the illness and forget about the person they used to be. The person centred approach to dementia care was developed to stop this happening and to ensure that the person living with dementia remains the focus – not the illness – and that they are always treated with respect, and as unique individuals.

This means that with anything you do within their house, or for their care and activity plan, you keep in mind who they are as a person, and their own personal likes and dislikes.

Good to know

Being organised with your loved one with dementia is all very well, but don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. If you’re writing a care plan for them, pencil in some time for you to relax, have a drink and some food or to watch your favourite TV show – it could be while they’re taking an afternoon nap. Either way, carer ‘me time’ is as important as the care you provide for your loved one with dementia.