senior man looking in mirror brushing teeth

If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you could be inclined to do whatever you can for the person to help relieve the strain of even the most basic everyday tasks. Independent living and dementia may even seem like polar opposites. However, all of us have an inherent need to preserve independence and the freedom to remain in control of our lives. This is true in spite of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Because of this, it’s crucial to cultivate independence for the person you love, to whatever degree feasible.

How Can I Enhance Independence for Someone With Dementia?

It takes some extra time and energy to modify daily activities to enhance independence, but it will be worth it. And naturally, the stage of dementia will be a prominent consideration in just how much adaptability is needed. Here are a few tips to get you started on rethinking how everyday activities can be carried out effectively for somebody with dementia.

Planning and Set-Up

Contemplate the steps involved in a specific activity, and which might be complicated for the person. For instance, reaching up into the cabinet for their toothbrush, twisting the cap off the toothpaste, and squeezing just the right amount onto the bristles could be challenging. In this case, before the senior comes into the bathroom, take care of those steps, leaving the prepared toothbrush on the edge of the sink. They may then be able to finish the task on their own. Similarly, you can lay out clothing, get clothes out of the dryer to be folded, or whatever advance steps will enable them to take care of the activity independently.

Stand Back But Model and Prompt as Needed

Allow the person some space to try the task, but remain nearby to give support as needed. This will allow as much independence as possible without causing the person frustration if the task becomes too difficult. Using the example of brushing their teeth, say the individual picks up the toothbrush but seems confused about what to do next. There are several ways for you to offer assistance. One particularly unobtrusive way is by nonverbal modeling. You might pick up your own toothbrush, and while you’re both facing the mirror, start to brush your own teeth. This might be all that’s required for the individual to copy your actions. If this doesn’t work, try a question prompt, like, “I see you are holding your toothbrush; what’s next?”

Use Step-by-Step Instructions

If prompting and modeling aren’t helping, try breaking the process down into smaller steps and offering verbal cues for every step as needed. In the example above, it could look similar to this: “Let’s place the toothbrush on our teeth. Now we’ll move the brush back and forth, like this. Now we’ll take a sip of water and rinse.” After every step, pause and see if the individual can carry on independently, and if so, end your verbal guidance and step back once again to allow them to finish the task on their own.


No matter what the person’s skill level, make sure 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’re turning on cold water rather than hot to prevent a burn. There’s a fine line to walk between helping and hindering.

At Hearts at Home In-Home Care a trusted provider of dementia care in Kansas City, Olathe, Overland Park, and the surrounding areas, it’s always our main goal to enable older adults to maintain as much control over their daily lives and choices as possible, while guaranteeing their safety and wellbeing. Contact us at 913-440-4209 if you would like to talk to us about any challenges you’re facing in caring for someone with dementia. We are always here to help.