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Alzheimer’s Insights: Learning to dress with dementia

Scott Finley

It never seemed like it back in July, but we are finally moving into colder weather here in Texas, and that means a change of wardrobe.

As we all know, your physical appearance contributes to your sense of self-esteem.  But – for a person with moderate or severe Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, changing a wardrobe can be frustrating. They may be overwhelmed with choices or the task itself, or even not remember how to dress.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to help, but first you need to step back and pay attention to what’s happening.

Physical Problems

  • Does the person have problems with motor skills needed to fasten buttons or close zippers?
  • Does the person remember how to dress – how to put clothes on and in what sequence?
  • Does he or she recognize their clothes?
  • Is he or she aware of the time of day or season of the year?

Environment Issues

  • Is the person troubled by lack of privacy, a cold room, poor lighting or loud noises?

Other Concerns

  • Is the person being rushed to get dressed quickly?
  • Is the person receiving clear step-by-step instructions on how to dress or does the task seem too complicated?
  • Is the person embarrassed by dressing in front of you or others?

Once you’ve made these observations, the next thing to do is:

Simplify Choices

  • Lay out clothes for the person.
  • When possible, give the person an opportunity to select favorite outfits or colors. Try offering only two choices of a clothing item (for example, two pants or two skirts).
  • Keep the closets free of excess clothing. A person may find many clothing choices overwhelming.

Choose Comfortable and Simple Clothing

  • Select comfortable and loose-fitting clothing that’s easy to put on and remove.
  • Cardigans, shirts and blouses that button in front are sometimes easier to work than pullover tops
  • Substitute Velcro for buttons, snaps and zippers, which may be too difficult to handle.
  • To avoid tripping and falling, make sure that clothing length is appropriate.
  • Make sure the person wears comfortable, non-slip shoes.
  • If the person is confined to a wheelchair, adapt regular clothes to protect his or her privacy and allow for greater comfort.
  • Make sure that clothing is loose fitting, especially at the waist and hips — and choose fabrics that are soft and stretchable.

Organize the Dressing Process

  • Lay out clothes in the order each item goes on.
  • Hand the person one item of clothing at a time while giving short, simple instructions such as “Put on your shirt,” rather than “Get dressed.”
  • Don’t rush the person. Haste can cause anxiety.

Finally – Be Flexible

  • If the person wants to wear the same outfit repeatedly, try getting a duplicate of it or have similar options available.
  • It’s ok if the person wants to wear several layers of clothing, just make sure he or she doesn’t get overheated.
  • It’s ok if clothing is mismatched.

And just a reminder – you can always get the latest information about the Association’s COVID-19 emergency preparedness guidelines for Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers in long-term or community-based care settings here:

https://alz.org/professionals/professional-providers/coronavirus-covid-19-tips-for-dementia-caregivers

The Alzheimer’s Association leads the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia – by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia. Visit alz.org or call 800.272.3900.

Scott Finley is Media Relations Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association® in Texas.  He can be reached at scfinley@alz.org