Promoting Independence with Someone with Dementia

How to Encourage a Person with Dementia to Continue Activities of Daily Living and Self Care


independence and dementia
Helping a loved one with dementia maintain independence


While it may seem like you are helping, it is important for caregivers to allow their caree the opportunity to perform as many activities of daily living as they can. Even with physical and cognitive decline, there are still activities that they can perform, sometimes with assistance.


Don’t go into the tasks when you are rushed or you will be setting yourselves up for failure, and it can be disheartening to your caree. Allow time for them to express their feelings and understand what tasks you will be doing together. Encourage them to participate in activities that you know they will succeed at and try to avoid situations that they are bound to fail.


When you plan activities, take into consideration their cognitive level, physical ability, interests and preferences. Make activities manageable by breaking tasks into multiple steps and laying out all of the tools and materials they will need. For example, if you’d like them to help prepare a salad for dinner, lay out all of the ingredients in a row and work with them on what next steps are, rather than expecting them to remember.


Actions that promote independence include:

  • Encourage your caree to participate in activities to the highest level possible
  • Encourage the caree to maintain personal hygiene
  • Allow the elder to make choices
  • Provide a safe environment that allows the caree to move about independently
  • Allow your caree to feed themselves independently
  • Allow your caree to continue with as familiar a lifestyle as possible


It can be difficult for family members to know how to interact with a family member with dementia. You can help them get comfortable and help them continue promoting independence by:


  • Providing information regarding their life and personal preferences (particularly if they have changed)
  • Encourage them to participate in the development of the plan of care
  • Encourage them to visit regularly and participate in activities with the caree
  • Share what topics or activities are of interest to your caree so that they can fall into step easily. If all else fails, music is always a successful way to positively impact a person with dementia’s mood


If you have family or friends who struggle with how to relate to a person with dementia, here are tips for effectively communicating with someone with dementia.

  • Introduce yourself by name at each new encounter. You don’t have to do it in a way that makes them feel like you are talking down to them. You can say something like, “Hi grandma, it’s me, Kathy.”
  • Listen carefully and encourage them. Do not talk down to them or use “baby talk” or talk to others about them as if they are not present.
  • Minimize distractions and noise.
  • Allow them to interrupt you so that they don’t forget what they want to say.
  • Allow time for them to process what you are saying and form a response.
  • Choose simple words, short sentences and a calm tone of voice.
  • Obtain their attention before speaking.
  • Speak slowly. Don’t act rushed or impatient.
  • If you are instructing them to do something, break instructions into small tasks and simple steps.
  • Face the person.
  • Establish eye contact.
  • Use verbal cues such as pointing or pictures if necessary.


Hopefully these suggestions will be useful to family or friends who don’t visit with your caree regularly so that they are always treated with respect and everyone has a positive interaction.


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