Adaptive Clothing for Person with Alzheimer’s
Assisting the Alzheimer’s or Dementia patient in their choice of clothing is not always an easy task. In later stages of the disease process, they often don’t want to change clothes at all. And if they do dress themselves, their clothes aren’t always appropriate for the season. Such as a heavy coat in the middle of summer, or thin shirt in the dead of winter.
- In early stages of Alzheimer’s or Dementia, it is not unusual for the person with Alzheimer’s dementia to be unaware of the day, date, month or even season of the year. As a safety measure be sure to note that their outer clothing is appropriate for the conditions outside. Warm clothes in winter and cool clothes in summer.
- Due to memory loss, they may not remember how long they’ve worn a particular item of clothing. They may believe they are wearing freshly laundered clothes when in reality they may have worn the same outfit for many days.
When I tried to get my Mom to change clothes, she would always say, “I don’t need to change clothes, I haven’t been anywhere so my clothes aren’t dirty.” In fact, she would wear the same dress or pant-suit for weeks if not persuaded to change clothes.
- Another thing I noticed was that Mom was never certain which clothes were hers and which clothes belonged to someone else, even when they hung in her own closet. We often think of memory as black and white; we remember it or we don’t. But with Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients there are shades and degrees and varying stages of memory loss.
Not only could Mom forget that the clothes in the closet were hers, she could also forget the purpose of a closet; why were all those clothes hanging from a single rod in the first place. It made no sense to her. She would often ask me, “Why are all those clothes hanging up.”
Since their memories are best when recounting their own childhood, I’ve wondered if Mom didn’t have a closet at all, in her younger days. Her family consisted of 8 siblings in a small farm house. Sometimes, I wondered whether they used chests and dressers to store their clothes, in lieu of closets as we know them today. It was the 1920’s when my Mom was a little girl. I do know from the stories she’s told that a weekly bath in a tub of water heated by the sun was the standard for cleanliness when she was a child.
- Another drawback to a clean change of clothes may be buttons and zippers. Often the person with Alzheimer’s does not remember how to manage buttons or zippers. After much coaxing, sometimes the only way to urge Mom to change her clothes was if I helped her in the process of undressing; undoing a button, getting a zipper started or helping to remove her shoes.
Despite their failing memory, folks with Alzheimer’s and Dementia still have pride. It does not come easy to ask for help in undressing or dressing themselves. Often, they’d prefer to wear the same clothes than to ask for help, feeling quite foolish because they know they should remember how to dress and undress themselves–but they don’t.
So always keep the patient’s feelings in mind. Don’t be condescending as you help them with their dressing or bathing or eating at mealtime. But rather, always help them in a loving and kind way.