senior man looking in mirror brushing teeth

If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia, you might be inclined to do whatever you can for the person to help ease the stress of even the most basic everyday tasks. Independent living and dementia may even seem like polar opposites. However, we all have an inherent need to safeguard self-reliance and the freedom to be in charge of our lives. This is true in spite of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. As a result, it is imperative to cultivate independence for the person you love, to whatever extent possible.

How Can I Implement Strategies for Dementia Independence?

It requires some extra time and effort to adjust daily life to promote self-sufficiency, but it will be worth it. And naturally, the stage of dementia will be a prominent factor in how much adaptability is necessary. Below are a few tips to get you started on rethinking how day-to-day tasks may be completed successfully by somebody with dementia.

Preparation and Set-Up

Think through the steps involved in a particular activity, and which may be complicated for the older adult. For instance, reaching up to get a dish out of a high cabinet, twisting the tie off a bread bag, and making a sandwich may be difficult. In this instance, before the individual comes into the kitchen, take care of those steps, laying out the items needed to make the sandwich. They may then be able to finish the task on their own. Similarly, you can set out clothing, put out items for toothbrushing, or whatever advance steps will allow them to manage the activity independently.

Stand Back But Model and Prompt as Needed

Give the person some space to attempt the task, but remain within range to give assistance as needed. This will allow as much independence as possible without causing the individual frustration if the task becomes too challenging. When attempting to brush their teeth, for instance, say the individual picks up the toothbrush but seems confused about what to do next. There are various ways you can offer support. One especially unobtrusive way is through nonverbal modeling. You might pick up your own toothbrush, and while you are both facing the mirror, start to brush your own teeth. This may be all that’s needed for the person to copy your actions. If this does not work, try a question prompt, such as, “I see you are holding your toothbrush; what’s next?”

Use Step-by-Step Instructions

If modeling and prompting aren’t helping, try breaking the task down into smaller steps and providing verbal cues for each step as required. In the example above, it might look something similar to this: “Let’s place the toothbrush on our teeth. Now we’ll move the brush back and forth, like this. Next, 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 let them complete the task on their own.


Regardless of the person’s ability level, be sure to stay close enough to ensure 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 cool water rather than hot to prevent a burn. There’s a fine line to walk between helping and hindering.

Need more strategies for dementia independence? At At-Home Care Company, a top provider of dementia care in Ames, Altoona, Ankeny, and the nearby areas, it is always our main priority to empower older adults to maintain as much control over their everyday lives and choices as possible, while guaranteeing their wellbeing and safety. Contact us at 515-292-2650 if you would like to talk with us about any challenges you’re facing in caring for a loved one with dementia. We’re always here to help.