Tips to Help Those With Dementia Get Dressed

Joe and Bella on Dementia MapSubmitted by Ben Graham
VP of Brand
Joe and Bella

Dressing an adult with dementia can be a challenging task for caregivers. However, with patience and understanding, it can be done with minimal stress for both the caregiver and the person living with dementia.

Remember to consider the stage of the disease. Some behaviors will change as dementia progresses, meaning the caregiver will need to adjust how they help based on the stage of the disease.

While you might be reading this article because you’re experiencing difficulty in helping your loved one get dressed, do your best to not let them see your frustration. You will be able to set the mood, and you don’t want to contribute to creating (or exacerbating) a stressful situation at dressing time.

This might otherwise lead to avoidance behaviors by your care recipient that will make this process that much more difficult.

Tips to Make the Dressing Process Easier

Create a calm and comfortable environment.

Make sure the room is well-lit and warm, and provide a comfortable chair for the person with dementia. If you are at all concerned that your loved one might struggle with balance during the dressing process, choose a chair with armrests so they have something to hold onto.

Break the task down into smaller steps.

Instead of trying to dress the person all at once, focus on one step at a time. Remember, dementia impacts how people process multi-step directions. They might not remember or fully internalize what you’re saying if you ask them to do more than one thing at the same time.

For example, start with putting on the socks, then the pants, and so on. One piece of clothing at a time, with plenty of positive reinforcement in between.

Use simple language and clear instructions.

Don’t leave any room for interpretation. If they don’t seem to fully understand what you’re asking, try to ask it in a different, simpler way. Speak slowly and clearly, using simple words and phrases that your care recipient can understand. And ideally, continue using the same directives each time they get dressed.

Allow the person to do as much as they can on their own.

Encourage them to dress themselves as much as possible, even if it takes longer. This will help to maintain their independence and self-esteem.

Use adaptive clothing and products.

Joe and Bella Adaptive Clothing on Dementia Map
Courtesy Joe and Bella

Look for clothing that is easy to put on and take off, such as Velcro closures or snaps instead of buttons. Also, consider using products such as incontinence pants and adult diapers for added protection.

There are some wonderful adaptive pants that do a nice job of hiding incontinence products and making it so much easier for you to change them throughout the day.

Some adaptive clothing is designed specifically for those with dementia. If your loved one hates putting their head through their shirt, then consider open-back tops that avoid this step altogether.

Be patient and understanding.

Dressing an adult with dementia can be a slow process, but it’s important to remain patient and understanding throughout the process. Remember to take breaks (for both you and your loved one) as needed and avoid becoming frustrated or upset.

They can tell when you’re frustrated.

Listen to your own tone and focus on your body language. Try to speak to them eye-to-eye. So if they’re in a seated position, you should kneel (or pull up another chair) to get to their eye level instead of standing above them.

Use familiar clothing and accessories.

People with dementia often feel more comfortable with familiar items; so, try to dress them in clothes they have worn before and accessories they are used to. To keep things super simple, just leave three different (matching) items in their drawer and closet and allow them to pick out their outfits.

You can swap in and out additional items each week, but keep in mind that too many choices can lead to stress.

Ideally, you’ll be able to find adaptive clothing that looks and feels just like the clothes that they’ve always worn–so, they feel good about their clothing choices. The key is that you want your loved one to want to wear their clothes and avoid sitting in pajamas all day or the same outfit all week.

Use cues and reminders.

Visual cues such as photos of properly dressed people, or verbal cues like “we need to put on your socks now” can be helpful. It reminds the person with dementia where you are in the dressing process.

You can even model some of the dressing behavior by showing, for example, how to place your own foot in a shoe at the same time you ask them to do so.

Provide encouragement and praise.

Positive reinforcement can go a long way in helping people with dementia feel good about themselves and their abilities. Be sure to praise and encourage the person for their efforts and accomplishments during the dressing process.

The most effective type of positive reinforcement is specific so they truly understand why they are receiving the praise. Saying something like “You did a great job tying your shoes” is a lot more effective than only saying “Good job.”

Be mindful and respectful of your care recipient’s dignity.

Dressing an adult with dementia can be a delicate task; it’s critical to be mindful of the person’s dignity and privacy. Be sure to provide them with appropriate clothing and be respectful of their body throughout the process.

Dressing Can Be Manageable

By following these tips, caregivers can make the task of dressing an adult with dementia a more manageable and stress-free experience for all involved. Remember that every person with dementia is different and may require different strategies; so, be open to experimenting with different approaches until you find what works best for your loved one.

Joe and Bella on Dementia MapBen Graham
Joe and Bella


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