Getting dressed can be a very complex and overwhelming task because there are so many steps involved. Helping a person with dementia to get dressed can be extremely time-consuming and emotionally exhausting, especially if the person is not cooperating. Each person with dementia will react in an individual way, and therefore an approach is needed which works best for both you and the person with dementia. There are many reasons a person with dementia or Alzheimer's disease might have problems dressing.
Depression, or a physical illness can cause a loss of interest in personal hygiene. Changes may have occurred in gross motor skills, creating problems with balance or walking. The changes may be with fine motor skills, causing problems fastening buttons or closing a zipper. The person with dementia may have impaired vision. The side effects of some drugs can cause dizziness or stiff joints.
Organise for the person with dementia to have the following evaluations:
Some people with dementia can’t remember whether they are getting dressed or undressed. In addition, they may forget to change their clothes, put them on in the wrong order or put on many layers of clothes. They may realise they have an item of clothing but have no idea which part of the body it goes on.
Noise, people, bright lights and clutter in the room can be distracting for a person with dementia trying to get dressed. Some older people, and especially those with dementia, have different temperature needs. Sometimes you will feel that it is oppressively hot inside the house, while the person with dementia finds the temperature quite comfortable.
Getting dressed is a very personal and private activity for most of us. Many people have never dressed or undressed in front of another person and this can be an uncomfortable experience. When a person needs assistance it also conveys the message that they are no longer able to care for themselves. This loss of independence can be very difficult to accept.
It is important to encourage a person with dementia to select their own clothing, although for many it may be difficult to make even simple decisions.
Judgment and the sensation of hot and cold can be impaired in some people with dementia. If the extra clothes are not causing any discomfort it is easier to leave well alone. It may be worth packing away extra clothing so that it is not visible.
Maintaining a person’s individuality and style of dress is very important. Introducing clothing that is very different from a former style may cause more problems than it is worth.
However, the following hints may help to manage problems with dressing.
Rather than arguing with a person who wants to wear the same outfit day after day, it is often better to buy a couple of the same outfits.
In past times many people did not change their clothes as often as they do today. It is important that you do not impose your own values about how often clothes need to be changed.
Being reminded to change your clothes can be an embarrassing and humiliating experience. It is important to remember these feelings.
Any extra time taken to maintain independence is well worth it. Being able to dress yourself can make a person feel more independent and can build up feelings of pride and self-esteem.
Some people with dementia may undress themselves frequently. This can be embarrassing and inconvenient, but they may no longer understand what is appropriate, and are usually not doing this to be provocative. Evaluate the situation:
Last Reviewed: 29 January 2011