Sleep and Short-Term Memory
An Update: The Best Books on Aging

Old Age and Daily Routine

If you Google “old age and routine,” you get only two relevant returns: one I wrote in 2008 and another from the Telegraph from 2011.

I did this search after reading a comment from Mary Follett a few days ago at The Elder Storytelling Place:

“I work 3 days a week,” said Mary, “and notice lately if my days get switched, I am off my feed, so to speak, for a week.”

Me too, when my general routine is disrupted. Here's a part of what I wrote in that post nearly five years ago:

”Careful organization might appear boring to many, but it keeps me moving. I alternate brain and physical tasks during the nine or ten hours a day that I’m capable of functioning well and I don’t often vary my routine.”

I am not a slave to my routine, but it seems to keep me balanced and like Mary Follett, my world feels a bit off-kilter if I ignore it. When events require a change in routine, I handle it better if I have a couple of days to plan.

God knows I could be wrong, but the need for routine in old age feels obvious to me, something that benefits elders, that may improve life and yet I've never seen it referenced in the literature of aging I've been reading for nearly 20 years. So I was interested in the Telegraph piece by annanicholas, an ex-pat Brit who lives on Majorca. She titled her story, Is routine the key to old age?

”When I met John Evans, a retired coal miner from Wales, and at the time the oldest man in Britain,” she writes, “he told me that he had always kept a regular pattern to his eating and sleeping habits and stimulated his brain every day...

“Arthur [Cook Merrick] was another believer in regular exercise and having a simple but effective daily routine part of which was keeping up with current affairs...

“The French 113 year-old, Jeanne Calment, an avid reader, rode a bicycle until she was 100 and regularly smoked and drank her favourite tipple.”

Each of these old old people and others in their 90s and 100s whom annanicholas spoke with also work exercise into their daily routines but the point of the the story, and it rings true for me, is that routine was a common aspect of the lives of these people who did not just live longer than most others, but were active and healthy into extreme old age.

Throughout my childhood and adult life until retirement, routine was set for me by school and then work. It was pretty much the same schedule five days a week for half a century, so maybe routine, after a lifetime of it, is just comfortable for me and therefore not really remarkable.

But it feels more important than that, even if I seem to notice my need for routine mostly when it is absent, and that it may be another piece of the puzzle to putting together a satisfying old age.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Old Friends


You're preaching to the choir, but I would expand on one aspect of what you wrote.
I have ALWAYS depended on routine to make sense of the world, and to give me at least the "illusion" of having some control.
I think that old age and concommitant retirement from former employment or marriage, or whatever filled your life, makes it doubly important to establish and masintain a routine.

Yes. I have a routine that helps me get things done and keeps me from sliding into indolence and depression.
I have a written daily plan that repeats weekly. If I have something extra to do on a particular day, I put it in the plan for that day. That way I can bundle my errands into one trip or OTOH keeps me from trying to do too much in one day.

Very interesting stuff. I think a routine keeps us from sitting all day (in front of the T.V.)and not exercising our minds and bodies.

Seems like a good topic for a study.

Although I love out of town company, I find that the disruption in my routine is unsettling. I am always glad to return to my rut after they leave.

I've always said I'm a creature of habit. Or a creature of routine. Any unexpected change throws off the whole day, and even aberrations I've planned for create all kinds of stress from anticipation, participation, and recuperation. It may sometimes bother others, but it's comfortable for me.

Ask us what our routines are. My grandfather played golf 3 times a week, went to church on Sunday, and did other church related things during the week. He listened to the news in the afternoons, then put a classical record on until dinner time. He read till bed. He lived till he was 99 and not enjoying it any more.

Thanks everyone for reassuring me about not being my routine which gives me comfort & balance, too. Dee

Like Darlene, I enjoy my 'rut' and I always have. This is however the very thing that makes young people think we're 'stuck in our ways'. What they don't realize is how freeing it is to be able to structure one's time the way it feels most comfortable. I wonder if this may be a luxury only single people indulge?

Hear hear. I consider myself still "young." I am only 62. However, I find myself wanting/needing a stable, predictable routine and I do get out of sorts when my schedule is too varied. I need to work at getting this more established in my day to day activities.

I so appreciate your comments. Thank you for taking the time to blog your thoughts and share your research. It has been a real blessing to me as I work to navigate the changes of aging. You so often speak of things that I then share with friends, but otherwise we might never have talked about them.

My sense from the post and the comments is that needing a daily routine is not totally an age thing. It's largely related to circumstances which change as we grow older.

We have a certain routine when we're working in an office or have young children or both. As we grow older, the children grow up and we usually retire. Then we're free to set our own schedule -which may look a lot like the schedule we used to have.

In reading blog posts about writing and productivity written by younger people, I've been struck by how often they suggest writing first thing in the morning because energy flags by mid-afternoon.

On the other hand, there must be a few of us who enjoy variety and spontanaity in their every day lives. There are regular activities of daily living, to be sure. But I like surprises and unplanned opportunities perhaps dictated by the weather. Routine equals boredom for me.

The idea of routine being the secret of old age reminds me of the often heard and very ancient description in West Virginia of someone, especially an older person, as being "very set in his ways!"

Yes there is a certain comfort in routine as long as I am flexible too.

And also I would add that having something to look forward to, which I posted about recently, gives life a bit of a zing.


Although I do agree and follow a routine myself, especially with bedtime, I am of the opinion that I need to break my daily routine to travel, for instance, so that I don't get cemented, so to speak, into my routine such that my connection with "the world" doesn't get frozen. Why?
I'm afraid that I'll freeze out the reality of a world generating itself with its mystery continuously. But, after all, I am a Gemini!!

My routine, such as it is, is dictated entirely by my body. But I know that if I am forced to be up, dressed and out the door before noon I will be depleted of strength and energy for several days afterward. I absolutely must allow myself to unfurl slowly as a new fern frond in the morning. Mentally I'm sharp from the moment I awaken, but the body has its own time. One by one the muscles come to life and gain momentum. My "routine" every day is simply listening to what the body says I'm allowed to do in this moment and sometimes it's not much! It's something the "Protestant work ethic" I was brought up with and I fuss about from time to time. But who is watching me now? And anyone who is keeping the clock on me has precious little to do themselves! LOL
Go with the flow... I have go with the flow.

The favorite saying of one of my former supervisors was, "Sometimes a change is as good as a vacation."

Seems to be some truth in that, but also merit in the idea that a routine can be healthy. I try to maintain a reasonable schedule that is flexible enough to accommodate pleasant new activities as they arise. Works for me.

I love the routines of my life. They make me feel secure, somehow. I was thinking maybe it was since retirement that I started feeling that way but really... looking back... I could guess I've always appreciated routine. I don't like chaos. I like order.

O boy, am I in the minority: I hate routine, and love the unexpected. If I do things three days in a row, I'm bored silly. Maybe 'cause I'm just a kid of 64. In my career, I ran student-centered programs at a community college and loved it for decades. Now in retirement the only constant is swimming, and being with kitties at the animalm shelter. But I keep an overnight bag packed and ready, always! Does being a Scorpio ( or any sign) have anything to do with our preferences? Serendipity is our goddess. About to launch into extended RVing...but I certainly respect the connection with routine & its comforts, too. Recouping after a trip takes longer than it used to.

Routine has never come naturally to me - the central activities of child rearing, marriage, career provided a structure if not routine for me. Now
I really am challenged by the real need for routine. I loved reading this,
much affirmed my knowing that for me to enjoy the freedom of this time of life- I need the steadyness, the grounding routine brings. And the wise words of listening to the body and really balancing brain and body activities each day may help to avoid the brain frenzy brought on by body pain/energy melt downs! Yes I think routine is a key to old age. Thanks to all

Old people such as my grandma seem to use up medicine and time from people who actually worked hard in life...I constantly hope her daily routine gets interrupted bc she annoys me...she gets money from my grandpas hard work and he died years ago so she basically got a free ride in life...she has to have the same stuff routinely everyday and it makes me pissed off...people like my grandma should go back to the mines and work bc it's not fare she gets to be taken care of even though she didn't earn it...

I am trying to figure out if my mothers routine is a sign of dementia or just her way of doing things. She does take her nerve medication, has been on it for years, but if one little thing is not routine it is like she has an anxiety attack. I want her to want to do more, but she doesn't. She likes to go back to bed after she eats, gets up a little while to talk to me when I go to see her. It is almost like she wants to get everything done before I leave her. She wants to get her medicine out, fix her breakfast for the next day, she rushes me to do everything we are going to do while I am there. I wish I knew why. I would love for her to do something... or ask to do something...not routine, should I feel bad about that?

I also have found it difficult to find something about routine and getting older online, along with other (I'm sure common) aspects about getting older that seem absent from online conversation. It seems that everything is the same old stereotypical stuff. However, since I am in my late fifties now, I have my own self to do an aging study on :) I find that I strangely get some enjoyment out of activities that were life time irritations in the past. For example, washing dishes, cooking, and cleaning the kitchen. Now, I wash dishes, cook, wash dishes / clean kitchen, cook, wash dishes, clean kitchen and repeat until I run out of energy for the day. If I ever find myself caught up with this routine and find some free time, my brain can become confused as to what to do, especially if I have not planned and geared myself up for a fill activity in advance. It's like this once boring and tedious routine has become soothing for me. I still don't want to get started with it, but once I do, it's like I'm addicted.

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