Caregiver Corner: Encourage Independence with Personal Care

Pamela Atwood, MA, CDP, Director of Dementia Care Services, Hebrew Health Care

One of the most challenging aspects of caregiving is assisting with personal care. However, independence increases success and minimizes how stressful these tasks can be.  Caregivers that keep the individual’s remaining abilities in mind are most successful.

Some basic tips to encourage independence with toileting, bathing, dressing, grooming and eating include:

Help the person feel in control
You may need to experiment to learn what the individual can do for him or herself. Give the person time to complete the activities that can be done with coaching and cueing only.

Use task breakdown
Give instructions a step at a time breaking tasks into individual actions. “Brush your teeth” sounds simple, but requires a great deal of cognitive and physical activity. Coach the individual through each step. If you separate each action, you may find the person can still accomplish the task with cueing only.

Simplify routines
Lay out clothing, prepare bathrooms, and offer one food item at a time. Activities of daily living can quickly become overwhelming to someone with cognitive impairment.

Monitor for safety and health
Install grab bars (do not use towel racks), use non-slip mats, and ensure the water is a comfortable temperature. Monitor for choking while eating. Observe for skin irritations if the person is incontinent.

If you need more ideas, there are many professionals at Hebrew Health Care who can assist you. Ask the day center staff or home care nurses for other ideas on how to maintain independence. There are also great resources available through various caregiver groups. If you would like resources, access Aging Care Academy website at or contact us at (860) 920-1810.

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