How to Respond to Problems with Dressing in Dementia

In Dementia, Let Her Choose What to Wear
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One area that can be difficult for people with Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia is getting dressed independently. They may experience a variety of problems, including:

  • Forgetting how to zip up zippers or button the buttons on garments.
  • Being determined to wear the same outfit every day.
  • Layering several articles of clothing on top of each other.
  • Putting clothing on in the wrong order such as underwear on the outside of pants.
  • Wearing clothing that is not at all appropriate for the weather. For example, she might attempt to go outside in the middle of winter in shorts and a tee shirt.
  • Becoming overwhelmed by too many choices in a closet and unable to choose clothing.
  • Removing clothing in public places.
  • Changing clothing frequently throughout the day.

Challenges with dressing are difficult because they can affect several different areas- hygiene, safety and social appropriateness. Some people with dementia want to wear the same clothing every day, whether it's clean or covered with stains, fresh-smelling or full of offensive odors, matching or clashing, and appropriate for the weather or not.

Why Do People with Dementia Develop Problems with Dressing?

Often, the person living with dementia copes with confusion and memory loss by adhering to a routine. Routines in dementia can be comforting and feel safe for the person, such as wearing the same outfit every day.

Because dementia affects the physical functioning of a person as the disease progresses, it can become more difficult to physically handle the task of dressing as well.

Dressing can also be an area where a loved one tries to maintain her independence by choosing her own clothing. When this ability begins to decrease, she may cling to it despite the difficulties as a way to make her own choices.

In What Stage of Dementia Do Problems with Dressing Typically Occur?

Mild dressing problems, such as choosing mismatched clothing, often begin towards the end of the early stages of dementia. Problems in the middle and late stages typically include a loss of the mental and physical ability to either choose clothing or physically dress oneself.

Ways to Cope with Problems with Dressing in Dementia

  • Choose clothing that's easy to put on and take off to facilitate her independence.
  • Limit the number of choices for clothing. For example, don't ask what he wants to wear. Rather, ask if he would like the red shirt or the blue shirt.
  • Remove from the closet or drawers the clothing that is not seasonably appropriate.
  • Lay out clothing in the same order every day.
  • If she tends to remove her clothing in a socially inappropriate location, don't raise your voice or become upset. Instead, ask for her help in the bathroom or offer to help her get that button done up. Or, suggest that she must be cold and offer her your sweater. If you remain calm, she will most likely be better able to understand your request and perhaps comply, rather than becoming agitated and combative if you react strongly and quickly reach over into her space to cover her up.
  • Choose comfortable, non-slip shoes.
  • Allow enough time for dressing so you are not rushing the process.
  • Ensure privacy to the extent possible.
  • Sneak dirty, odorous clothing away while the person is in the bath or shower or in bed and set out other clothing.
  • If he's fixated on wearing a certain shirt and pants over and over, consider buying more than one of each of them so that he can wear a spare set while the other set gets washed. You may prevent anxiety and distress by allowing him to wear the "same" clothing every day.
  • Remind yourself that you may need to let go of any embarrassment you might feel. If a certain outfit is not your favorite but your mother loves it and feels confident in it, let it go and be thankful for her enjoyment of it.

Sources:

Alzheimer's Association. Dressing and Grooming. Accessed April 29, 2013. https://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-dressing.asp

Alzheimer's Society. Dressing. Accessed April 29, 2013. http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=142

FullCircleCare.org. Dealing with Behaviors Common to Alzheimer's. Accessed April 29, 2013. http://www.fullcirclecare.org/alzheimers/behaviors.html

Texas A&M University. Family and Consumer Sciences. Caring for the Disoriented Person. Accessed April 29, 2013.

University of Iowa. Center on Aging. Stages of Alzheimer-type dementias. Accessed April 29, 2013. http://www.centeronaging.uiowa.edu/newpubs/Module_2_-_Stages_of_Alzheimer-type_dementia.pdf

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