If you’ve been caring for a loved one with memory loss, you’ve likely heard how important it can be to establish a daily routine. Routines can be helpful for those with diminishing cognitive abilities as they provide structure for the day and allow for natural cuing of what happens next. However, routines can become harmful if they begin to take away your loved one’s freedom of choice.
“When the caregiver’s desire for a set routine becomes a higher priority than the person’s choice and sense of control, we have trouble,” says Lonette Bentley, Executive Director at Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola, a memory care assisted living community in Pensacola, Florida. “Creating some routine structure is a good thing, but even caregivers with the best intentions can occasionally prioritize the routine over their loved one’s desires. Even in situations where a task must be done now, it’s important for caregivers to recognize the need to give their loved ones choices.”
The Human Need for Control
Everyone has a primal need for control, although we may not notice it until something takes our control away. The need for a sense of control over one’s life doesn’t disappear with memory loss, but sadly, those who suffer from cognitive decline are often treated in a way that limits their control and choice. As a result, they may show agitation or aggression that seems irrational from the caregiver’s point of view (you’re only asking them to get dressed, after all!), but from a loved one’s perspective, they’re reacting as anyone would to having their freedom of choice threatened.
According to dementia expert Angela Lunde, it’s the caregiver’s perspective that needs to change: “When we view behaviors as a symptom of dementia, then we see them as a problem, but if we view them as a justified reaction to something that's distressing, we see an opportunity.” An opportunity to step back and consider your loved one’s point of view. An opportunity to allow them their basic human right to make decisions for themselves.
Obviously, there comes a time in the disease progression when your loved one will no longer be able to make choices on their own. But until that time comes, it’s important to let your loved one have a say in how they live their day-to-day life. This offers them dignity and respect, which matter greatly to those whose memory loss may already lessen their self-worth.
How to Honor Choice Amid Everyday Challenges
Recognizing your loved one’s need to make decisions for themselves may take some adjusting on your part. As their caregiver, your top priority is to keep them safe and healthy. However, allowing flexibility in your care routine and giving your loved one the right to choose grants them a sense of normalcy, control and worthiness – aspects that are vital to our emotional well-being. While it may be faster for you to pick out your loved one’s clothes for them, letting them choose for themselves can be significant. A minor inconvenience for you could be a significant boost for your loved one’s sense of self.
Here are some examples of how you can honor your loved one’s choices while still supporting them through their daily challenges:
Waking Up – Instead of waking your loved one up at 7 a.m. each morning, allow them some flexibility, including occasional days to sleep in if they want to.
Eating – While mealtimes can be challenging for those in the later stages of memory loss, you can still give them a choice of what to eat and when. If the decision is hard for them to make, offer a few options and let them choose from your “menu.”
Bathing – If possible, limit your support in the bathroom to stand-by, allowing your loved one privacy and the choice to ask for help when they need it. Let them choose when to bathe, and remember that a daily bath isn’t always necessary.
Dressing – Let your loved one choose their own clothes to wear. Unless they are dressed for summer when it’s below freezing, their fashion choices won’t cause them any harm.
Activities – Never force your loved one into doing something they don’t want to (unless it’s necessary for their health). Offer them options for activities to do throughout the day. If you try something and your loved one resists, let it go and try again later.
As their memory loss progresses, it will be more and more difficult for your loved one to communicate what they want. Allowing them the freedom to make their own decisions can eliminate irritation and anger from your loved one’s behavior simply by letting them take back some control over their daily life.
Person-Centered Memory Care
“At Clarity Pointe Pensacola, we believe that putting the person ahead of the task is vital to our residents’ quality of life,” shares Bentley. “Very rarely is a caregiving task so time-sensitive that it can’t wait until the person is ready. Our care team celebrates each resident for who they are, and honoring their daily choices is a big part of that. We find that approaching a memory care patient as a person, rather than a task to be checked off, gives both residents and caregivers the sense of respect and dignity they need to feel fulfilled each day.
“If you would like to know more about memory care services at Clarity Pointe Pensacola or how to honor your loved one’s daily choices, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re always available to help family caregivers and those with memory loss live life to the fullest.”
Clarity Pointe … Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Pensacola offers three freestanding, purpose-built memory care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to memory care assisted living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.