senior man looking in mirror brushing teeth

If you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you might be inclined to do whatever you can for the person to ease the stress of even the most basic everyday tasks. Living independently and dementia may seem like polar opposites. However, we all have an innate need to safeguard self-reliance and the freedom to remain in charge of our lives. This is true in spite of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. As a result, it’s crucial to cultivate independence during dementia, to whatever degree feasible for a loved one.

How Can I Encourage Independence for Somebody With Dementia?

It requires some extra time and energy to modify day-to-day activities to promote self-sufficiency, but it will be worth it. And naturally, the stage of dementia will be a prominent consideration in how much adaptability is required. The following are some suggestions to get you started on rethinking how activities can be completed successfully for somebody with dementia.

Preparation and Set-Up

Think through the steps involved in a particular activity, and which might be complicated for the person. For example, reaching up to get a dish out of a high cabinet, twisting the tie off a bread bag, and making a sandwich might be challenging. In this situation, before the person comes into the kitchen, take care of those steps, getting out the plate and laying out items to make a sandwich. They may then be able to independently complete the task. In the same way, you can lay out clothing, set out the items for toothbrushing, or whatever advance steps will empower them to take care of the activity by themselves.

Stand Back But Model and Prompt When Necessary

Give the person some space to try the task, but stay within range to give assistance as required. This will allow as much independence as possible without causing the individual frustration in the event that the task becomes too challenging. For instance, say the individual picks up their toothbrush but seems uncertain of what to do next. There are several ways you can offer help. One especially unobtrusive way is through nonverbal modeling. You can pick up your own toothbrush, and while you are both looking at the mirror, begin to brush your own teeth. This may be all that’s necessary for the person to copy your actions. If this does not work, try a question prompt, such as, “I see you’re holding your toothbrush; what’s next?”

Use Step-by-Step Instructions

If modeling and prompting are not helping, try breaking the task down into smaller steps and offering verbal hints for each step when necessary. In the example above, it could look something similar to this: “Let’s place the toothbrush on our teeth. Now we are going to move the brush backwards and forwards, like this. Now we’ll take a sip of water and rinse.” After each step, pause and see if the individual can carry on independently, and if so, stop your verbal guidance and step back once again to allow them to complete the task themselves.


Regardless of the person’s skill level, you’ll want to stay close enough to guarantee safety. This doesn’t mean hovering over the person while they are brushing their teeth. But it does mean being near enough to make certain they are turning on cool water instead of hot to avoid a burn. There’s a fine line to walk between helping and hindering.

At Live Free Home Health Care, a dedicated provider of dementia care services in Concord, Franklin, and throughout the surrounding areas, it’s always our main goal to encourage older adults to maintain as much control over their daily lives and choices as possible, while ensuring their safety and wellbeing. Contact us at 603-217-0149 if you’d like to talk to us about any challenges you’re facing in caring for a person with dementia. We’re always here to help.