senior man looking in mirror brushing teeth

If you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you may be inclined to do as much as possible 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, we all have an inherent need to preserve self-reliance and the freedom to remain in control of our lives. This is true in spite of dementia. Because of this, it is very important to help dementia patients preserve independence to whatever degree possible.

How Can I Help Dementia Patients Maintain Independence?

It requires some extra time and energy to adapt daily activities to promote independence, but it will be well worth it. And naturally, the stage of dementia is going to be a prominent factor in just how much adaptability is required. Here are a few tips to get you started on rethinking how daily tasks may be carried out successfully for a person with dementia.

Preparation and Set-Up

Contemplate the steps associated with a certain activity, and which might be challenging for the older adult. For example, reaching up into the cabinet for their toothbrush, twisting the cap off the toothpaste, and accurately squeezing just the right amount onto the bristles may be challenging. In this instance, before the individual comes into the bathroom, take care of those steps, getting out the toothbrush and putting on the toothpaste for them. They may then be able to finish the task on their own. In the same way, you can lay out clothing, get clothes out of the dryer to be folded, or whatever advance steps will empower them to handle the activity independently.

Stand Back But Model and Prompt as Needed

Allow the person some space to attempt the task, but remain nearby to provide help as needed. This will allow as much independence as possible without causing the individual frustration if the task turns out to be too challenging. Using the example of brushing their teeth, say the person picks up the toothbrush but seems confused about how to proceed next. There are several ways you can offer assistance. One particularly unobtrusive way is by nonverbal modeling. You can pick up your own toothbrush, and while you’re both looking at the mirror, begin to brush your own teeth. This may be all that’s required for the individual to mimic your actions. If this does not work, try a question prompt, for example, “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 tips for every step as required. 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. Next, we’ll 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 guidance and step back once again to let them finish the task themselves.


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

At Abby Senior Care, a trusted provider of dementia care in Aurora, Denver, Centennial, and the surrounding areas, it’s always our top priority to encourage older adults to maintain as much control over their everyday lives and choices as possible, while ensuring their safety and wellbeing. Contact us at 303-699-8840 if you would like to talk with us about any challenges you are facing in taking care of a person with dementia. We’re always here to help.