senior man looking in mirror brushing teeth

If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you may be inclined to do whatever you can for the person to help relieve the stress of even the most basic everyday tasks. Independent living and dementia may even seem like polar opposites. However, we all have a natural need to safeguard self-reliance and the freedom to be in charge of our lives. This is true in spite of dementia. As a result, it’s crucial to foster independence for the person you love, to whatever degree possible.

How Can I Promote Independence for a Person With Dementia?

To help foster independence, it takes some extra time and energy to adapt day-to-day activities for a person with Alzheimer’s, but it is well worth it. And naturally, the stage of dementia will be a prominent consideration in just how much adaptability is required. Here are some suggestions to get you started on rethinking how everyday activities may be accomplished successfully for a person 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 to get a plate, opening up the mustard, and getting out the bread may be difficult. In this instance, 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 finish the task on their own. In the same way, you can lay out clothing, place items out for brushing teeth, or whatever advance steps will allow them to manage the activity on their own.

Stand Back But Model and Prompt as Necessary

Give the person some space to attempt the task, but stay nearby to give support as needed. This will allow as much independence as possible without causing the individual frustration in the event that the task becomes too challenging. If the person is attempting to brush their teeth, for instance, they may pick up the toothbrush but seem confused about how to proceed next. There are many ways you can offer help. One especially unobtrusive way is through nonverbal modeling. You can pick up your own toothbrush, and while you’re both facing the mirror, start to brush your own teeth. This can be all that’s necessary for the individual to copy your actions. If this doesn’t work, try a question prompt, for example, “I see you are holding your toothbrush; what’s next?”

Use Detailed Instructions

If prompting and modeling are not helping, try breaking the process down into smaller steps and offering verbal tips for every step as required. In the example above, it might look something like this: “Let’s place the toothbrush on our teeth. Now we are going to move the brush back and forth, like this. Now let’s take a sip of water and rinse.” After every step, pause and see if the person can continue themselves, and if so, end your verbal coaching and step back once again to allow them to finish the task by themselves.


Regardless of the person’s ability level, you’ll want to stay close enough to ensure safety. This doesn’t mean hovering over the person while they’re brushing their teeth. But it does mean being close enough to make sure they are turning on cold water as opposed to hot to prevent a burn. There is a fine line to walk between safety and independence.

At Inspired Home Care, a trusted provider of dementia care in Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, and the surrounding areas, it’s always our primary goal to help older adults maintain as much control over their everyday lives and choices as possible, while prioritizing their safety and wellbeing. Contact us at 847-787-7572 if you would like to talk with us about any challenges you are facing in caring for someone with dementia. We are always here to help.