Choice, Voice & Bodily Autonomy in Dementia Care

As dementia interferes more and more with their daily life, people with dementia can become frustrated, angry, or depressed as they feel their sense of identity slipping away.

This can occur when their symptoms prompt major life changes, such as an unwelcome retirement, they stop driving and must rely on others, or they stop participating in social activities or hobbies they enjoy – whether out of necessity, embarrassment, or fear of making mistakes in front of friends.

A person’s sense of identity can also be taken from them by others who treat them differently because of their disease, especially before it’s time.

“Even when dementia has advanced to the point where daily assistance is required, it’s important to respect the person’s voice and remaining abilities,” says Jessica Smith, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Wildwood, a Memory Care community in Wildwood, Florida. “Taking a person-centered – not disease-centered – approach to caregiving helps people in various stages of memory loss hold on to their sense of self with dignity.”

In this post, we’ll explore how to help your loved one maintain their autonomy and sense of identity as their care needs increase.


If loved ones say they can, for example, feed or dress themselves, caregivers are urged to listen. This means the person is aware this is something they ‘should’ be able to do. For all the reasons caregivers insist on doing everything for their loved one with dementia – it’s easier, quicker, less messy – there are even more reasons not to.

First, performing daily tasks on their own or with some gentle guidance as necessary engages their cognitive skills and exercises their fine motor skills. It also gives them a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and value as a person. Overriding their request to let them do so can make the person resent the caregiver for ‘stealing’ their independence or hurt them in other ways when faced with caregiver impatience or lack of acknowledgment of their abilities.

This is not to say you should give your loved one your car keys upon request – although people with early stages of memory loss may be able to drive safely for some time after an initial diagnosis – but it is recommended that caregivers encourage their loved ones to do as much as the person is willing and able to do so, so long as safety is not an issue.


Sometimes, people with memory loss and other physical ailments won’t object to your assistance, but they may object to their lack of say in their care process, routine, or other decisions. Deferring to their preferences whenever possible shows their opinions, wishes, and way of life are respected.


Avoid Identity Crises.

You parent may live under your roof, but they’ve been living by their rules for a long, long time. If your loved one has never been a morning person, don’t insist they rise at 6:00 a.m. with you. If your mom took pride in being quite the fashionista back when she was dressing herself, consider her style choices and make those types of clothes available to her – even if, gasp, they are dry clean only. If your dad’s worn Aqua Velva since the day he started shaving, stock up. The same goes for a favorite laundry detergent, toothpaste, and other daily items that are both preferred and familiar to their senses.

Make It Easier to Perform Basic Tasks. If, for example, your loved one has arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or another condition that makes holding utensils difficult, consider serving easy-to-hold finger foods or giving your loved one a modified dining kit. These place settings and utensils are designed to make it easier and safer for people with dementia to eat and drink. If your loved one has restricted vision or depth-perception, use plain plates. Patterns can be distracting or appear to be food left on their plates.

Help them dress with success. Stock your parent’s wardrobe with simple, comfortable options that are easy to put on and take off.

Provide safe grooming tools. Emory boards and electric shavers can be less hazardous than sharp nail clippers and razors.

Don’t rush your loved one. Reassure your parent that you are there to assist but avoid causing stress or anxiety. Be understanding if dressing takes three times longer than it would if you did it yourself. Physical conditions like arthritis, limited mobility, or difficulty maintaining balance will prolong the process, but the self-satisfaction they feel – and the lack of fighting – will be worth it.

Don’t stress the mess. Are your dad’s sticky fingers or crumbly lap more important than the sense of independence that holding his own brownie gives him? Is your mom smiling proudly behind her crooked lipstick? Is it something you can fix with a little wipe here or there? When cleaning up, be careful not to complain or pass judgment. Spilled milk and all that. Hearing they did something ‘wrong’ takes away all the joy and accomplishment they might have felt.

For more ways to support your loved one with memory loss, call our dementia care experts at YourLife™ of Wildwood today at 352-433-0942.


Designed for You. Defined by You.

YourLife™ of Wildwood provides the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. In fact, we were created with that one purpose in mind. Each day, we focus all our energy, attention, and resources on creating a dementia-friendly environment that caters to each resident’s personal needs, choices, and individuality while ensuring unequaled peace of mind and dedicated support for families.

At YourLife™ of Wildwood, we understand that everyone has their own story, specific needs, and retained abilities, so we develop personally inspired care plans that help enhance and support each person’s independence while enriching their days. To ensure further peace of mind, our team of YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to assist with everyday activities, gentle reminders, and redirection.

With our signature YourStory programming, we personalize Memory Care and create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational, and wellness programming to scheduled outings and other special events to personal care, assistance, and multiple therapies, we create days with meaning. At YourLife™ of Wildwood, you and your loved one will see that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more!

Call us at 352-433-0942 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.