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Staying independent with dementia

A dementia diagnosis shouldn’t stop anyone from continuing to live an independent life for as long as possible - we explain how to help a loved one live with dementia.
In this article
Living well with dementia Practical ways to stay independent Exercise options and ideas 
Individual activities to enjoy Group activities to try out  Cognitive exercise and mental health

Living well with dementia

It’s important for everyone to talk about how you want to tackle the changes ahead. If you have been diagnosed with dementia, it's good to keep as fit and healthy as possible. There are also things you can do to help yourself stay independent too. If you're a family member, your instinct may be to help by taking care of everything, but that’s not always the best way. A conversation will help clear up where you can offer hands-on help, and where only your emotional support is needed.

Here are a few ways that you can give extra support to someone who has recently been diagnosed with dementia.

Checklist (ticks)
  • Support your loved one to keep in regular contact with friends and family, even if you can’t visit in person.

  • Encourage them to continue any hobbies and social groups.

  • Sleep is often affected by dementia as well, so a regular bedtime routine can help. It’s also a good idea to avoid naps, caffeine and alcohol. As a family member or carer, you can help keep on top of all these little changes.

  • Keeping to a healthy lifestyle, such as eating well, getting lots of exercise is important, as is attending any scheduled appointments.

  • Listen to their fears and anxieties – you don’t need to have all the answers, but being there to listen is equally important.Keep doing all the things you enjoy together with friends and family: plan days out that your loved one can come on.

  • Help with small things when you can, such as cooking a meal.

  • Be positive and try to focus on what your loved one can do, not on what they can’t.


The Contented Dementia Trust is a charity that helps those who have been diagnosed with dementia and their carers. It runs courses and offers advice for families and friends to help learn how to develop individual care for the person with dementia. You can also read our advice on caring for someone with dementia.

Practical ways to stay independent

Checklist (ticks)
  • There are practical things you can do for yourself if you've been diagnosed with dementia or for your loved one if you are a carer to help make day-to-day life easier.

  • Keep a diary and write down the things that need to be remembered.

  • Have a daily newspaper delivered as a prompt of the date and day.

  • Keep a notepad and pen handy at all times for notes and lists.

  • Pin a weekly timetable to the wall containing appointments and activities.

  • Find ‘homes’ for specific items so that they can always be kept in the same place, and are easier to find. For example, put a bowl in the hallway for keys or a basket in the lounge for TV remote controls.

  • Stick labels on cupboards or drawers as a reminder for where everything is kept.

  • Place a list of helpful telephone numbers, such as family members, the doctor's surgery, by the phone or on speed dial.

  • Get a mobile phone with big buttons.

  • Write reminders for important tasks – for example, stick a note inside the front door as a reminder to take house keys when going out, or by the cooker as a prompt to check it’s switched off.

  • Check the home has safety devices installed, such as gas detectors and smoke alarms.

  • Investigate assistive technology that could help to keep you safe.

  • Read information on memory aids for dementia in Which? Home & garden for ideas on devices that can help people stay independent at home.

  • Set up direct debits for bills so they continue to be paid.

Exercise options and ideas 

Being active can help to improve quality of life and general wellbeing, as well as having health benefits. Exercising can relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, while group activities can nurture a sense of belonging and stop people from feeling isolated. It’s believed that mental stimulation can help slow down the progression of dementia and there are many different exercise options for people with dementia, such as:

  • Tai Chi
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Seated exercises.

Individual activities to enjoy

There are many activity options that can be stimulating for the mind as well as the body. As much as possible, people with dementia should continue to keep doing what they have always enjoyed, modifying the activity within the limits of the person’s ability. Examples include:

  • Music and dance
  • Crafts, painting and drawing
  • Indoor bowls
  • Gardening, housework, cooking
  • Reading
  • Simple board games
  • Puzzles: either jigsaw puzzles or specialist computer games with quizzes.

Group activities to try out 

A variety of group-based activities can be done at home, such as gardening or painting, as well as organised sports and activities, either through local sports centres, community groups or local support groups. For example, some people enjoy indoor bowls, bingo, dance and even some sports. 

Support groups near you
Use our directory to find support groups for carers and people living with dementia.

Cognitive exercise and mental health

One of the most vital ways for people with dementia to keep active is to keep exercising the brain. Our guide to keeping the brain active includes cognitive exercises for people with dementia, but there are also a few ideas below. 

  • Reminiscing: people with dementia most often lose their recent memories so may enjoy talking about their childhood and ‘life before dementia’. There are various organisations that support reminiscing, such as Sporting Memories and Singing for the Brain, organised by the Alzheimer’s Society. You can search for these in our care services directory.
  • Sorting through photos: going through family or holiday photos can be a great activity that brings back happy memories. Your loved one might also enjoy putting together a scrapbook of their life, with family photos and experiences. 
  • Building a life story about the person: which includes their history and family, friends, holidays and homes they have lived in. This is an interesting activity and also helps people who may be caring for them to get to know them better and can help understand responses and behaviours. For example, someone who gets up at 4am every day may have worked as a postman for 30 years, so this is not at all ‘unusual behaviour’.

Further reading

Living with dementia

Living with dementia is life changing, so we help you understand what to expect about treatment and medications.

Last updated: 24 Sep 2018