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How do I help someone with dementia dress?

Find out how to make dressing a simple and stress-free experience

The clothes you wear are often an expression of who you are as a person, so struggling to pick out an outfit each day and even knowing what order or how to put it on can be very difficult. So it’s no wonder that struggling to dress can be a common problem for someone living with dementia.

Memory loss can mean putting on a shirt or trousers could suddenly seem much harder, especially if they also have mobility problems or difficulty with fiddly buttons or zips.

Understanding the ‘rules’ of dressing (such as which clothes they should put on first) or dressing appropriately for the season and temperature outside can be a struggle too.

Luckily, with a little guidance, you can help someone living with dementia to still make their own decisions about what they wear, which will, in turn, help to make them feel more purposeful and happy.

1. Plan the night before

Picking out clothes together the night before can help avoid the often overwhelming feeling of having to pick them out from everything in their wardrobe in the morning. You can chat through what the weather might be like and plan clothes accordingly. Then hang each item on a numbered hanger so that they know what order the clothes need to be put on the next day. Make sure the clothes are not inside out and that zips and buttons are all undone.

2. Think about the weather

Remember that if the person with dementia is elderly, they’ll probably going to need an extra layer on top of what you might wear, particularly during the winter when it’s colder. This can usually be done by adding an under layer such as a vest. Go for vests that are easy to get into with front buttons or velcro or which are extra stretchy.

3. Give them a choice

It’s important to get the balance right between giving your loved one some choice about what they want to wear each day, to foster a feeling of independence, but not too much as being asked to choose something from a whole pile of clothes can feel overwhelming. You might want to label drawers so they can find some clothes themselves if they’re able.

4. Make the room comfortable

Ensure that the room is warm enough to get undressed in and that the curtains are drawn so people can’t see in (especially if they’re in a downstairs bedroom). They may also need a rail or a chair to sit on while they dress and to provide support.

5. Give guidance

If they can’t dress themselves, or lack the confidence, they’ll need a bit of direction, and the amount you give will depend on each individual. It may just be the case that they need a verbal prompt – ‘now put on your shirt, and then put your trousers on’. However, some people will struggle actually putting the clothes on and you may need to step in. Use actions and point to different areas of the body to help them understand which clothing goes wear. If they make a mistake, try to stay calm. Just patiently explain what they need to do – even have a laugh about it – and keep going.

6. Use dressing aids

There are various gadgets and aids that can help to make dressing easier, particularly if they have mobility problems. These include shoe horns, elastic laces and gadgets to help you put arms through sleeves, do up bras and put socks and stockings on. You can also buy items of clothing that are especially adjusted to make dressing easier, such as back fastening shirts and trousers with side zips.

7. Allow plenty of time

It may take longer than before to get someone with dementia dressed. Whether that’s because they’re unwilling to get into or out of clothes (which is a common occurrence), or because they’re simply less mobile, it’s important to not rush the process so that they feel comfortable and calm.

Top tip: Grooming

Shaving: If the person you care for prefers to be clean shaven, they may need a little help to do so. If they’re used to an electric razor, these can be easier as they’re less likely to cause nicks and cuts. However, the noise may be disconcerting to some so bear this in mind. If they use a traditional razor and are no longer able to shave without cutting themselves, you’ll need to help them. Place a towel over their front and around their neck to catch any drips of water, wet their face, apply shaving cream and shave in the direction of the hair growth.

Hair styling: Having your hair done can be a very enjoyable experience, especially for women. Having a say in their appearance will increase their sense of independence too. Whether it’s giving them a blow dry, or taking them to the hairdressers each week, experiences like this can really help improve their quality of life.