older woman sitting on bed with younger person helping her dress

Clothing is such a challenge with dementia patients.

Let’s just put this out here right up front.

If a person with dementia was left alone, they’d wear the same clothing 24/7 until someone makes them change.

Am I right?

Can you identify with this? Has your loved one with dementia gone several days without changing clothes?

cute girl with look of disgust on her face

Or worse – have they just removed their clothing in public places or at the wrong time?

Do you struggle with getting your loved one to change clothes? Are you easily frustrated trying to get them to wear something different?

It doesn’t have to be a daily struggle. A little bit of investigation and research then some planning (plotting??) (manipulation??) may help ease the way.

Figure out why dementia patients remove clothing

Before you figure out what you need to fix you have to find out what’s going on in the first place!

Your loved one with dementia may be removing clothes because:

  • They are too hot

  • The clothing is too tight

  • The fabric may be itchy, scratchy and they just don’t like how it feels

  • They may be uncomfortable in that particular piece of clothing

  • They may have to go to the bathroom

  • They may be experiencing a hallucination

     

Hopefully after watching your loved one and paying attention to clues or cues they exhibit, you have a better idea of why dementia patients strip.

If your loved one is dropping pants and “going” then and there, most likely it’s a toileting issue. See this post for more on that but that is an issue that requires further investigation, so I won’t go into that here.

Okay, so here we go…..

How to get a dementia patient to change clothes

I finally clued in to the fact that my mom was wearing the same clothing. When she took clothing off in the evenings it would stay on her bed and that’s what she would wear the next day.

There were probably nights when she wore that clothing to bed as well.

Here’s the dementia “role change” at work. I decided that it was time I got Mom’s clothes out for her in the mornings and in the evenings I had Mom change into her comfy, warm pjs. 

So, here are my 6 simple steps to getting my mom to change clothes.

1. Put clean clothes out during bathing time

Mom liked to take her showers in the morning. So while she was showering, I would put her dirties in the washer (out of sight) and get out clean clothes.

2. Put clothing on the bed in order or hand to them after bathing

It was easy to hand each piece of clothing to Mom as she dried off.

If she didn’t shower, I would pick out the clothing for her in the morning while she used the bathroom. When she came back in the bedroom I would hand her 1 piece at a time to put on. 

3. Dress in layers

I didn’t have the problem with my mom being too hot. Just the opposite! She was always cold.

Therefore, she wore layers. A slip instead of a bra, then a t-shirt followed by a longer sleeve shirt and then a cardigan sweater.

Dressing in layers is easier for women as they wear more layers. I guess men could add a t-shirt layer as well.

I would hand the clothing to her piece by piece starting with the underclothing.

4. Remove non-seasonal clothing from the closet to limit their choices

Recognizing what season they are in is beyond the cognition of your loved one at this point. If your loved one is still choosing their own clothing then you want the choices to be able to be worn for the weather.

Unless they are always cold! Then you might want that cold weather clothing!

During the warmer months, I took out all the cold weather clothing and put that in a closet upstairs so they weren’t available to wear. I switched out clothing when it got colder.

5. Pare down the closet so there aren’t that many choices

If your loved one is still picking out clothing you would want to pare down the closet. In other words – don’t give them so many choices. It’s too overwhelming.

If your loved one still likes to make their own choices of what to wear, give them 2 choices and let them decide. That would still let them feel like they have some control in their life yet.

6. Limit the number of shoe choices

If your loved one can still dress themselves, pick a couple favorite shoes and put the rest somewhere else. Again, less is easier.

Slip-in shoes are easier for them to put on themselves. If shoes have laces, then you will probably need to make sure they are tied as the dexterity will be too difficult as well as the recollection of how to tie won’t be there.

photo of clothes hanging on rack with title 6 simple steps to get your loved one with dementia to change clothes

Do people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty manipulating clothing or getting dressed

Yes!

On top of the reasons above there could be mobility issues and dexterity issues. Manipulating buttons and zippers may be hard tasks for some people.

Think about all the decisions that are involved in dressing.

Here’s just a few:

  • Picking out something appropriate for the weather

  • What to match it with

  • Which arm/leg goes into which hole

  • What layer of clothing goes first

  • What goes on the bottom of the body and what goes on the top

  • How to button/zip/fasten/hook

  • Losing track of what they were doing and getting sidetracked

  • Are they getting dressed or undressed

Now you can see why our loved ones with dementia stay in the same clothing for multiple days and why it’s such a challenge!

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