A man sitting outside dressed for the weather

10 ways to make dressing easier for people with dementia

As dementia progresses, a person may need more help with everyday activities such as getting dressed. We share 10 ideas that could help make dressing easier while retaining personal choice and identity.

Getting dressed is a very personal daily activity and choosing what we wear is often an expression of our identity. People living with dementia increasingly need more help as time goes on, but it’s important to help them make their own choices for as long as possible.  

There are lots of ways to do this – some people may just need more time, while others may find labels or visual aids useful. If a person does need assistance, it’s important to offer it in a sensitive way.  

Here are some of our top tips on how you can make dressing a comfortable, enjoyable experience, encouraging a sense of freedom and independence.

How to make dressing easier for people with dementia 

1. Put a label on it

An easy way to help a person with dementia stay independent when dressing is to add signs to wardrobes and drawers. Use a combination of words and pictures to make the labels clear and easy to understand. 

2. Lay it out 

Lay out a full outfit on a plain background in the order the person would put the items on. For example, start with underwear and socks, then a top and trousers, a belt, before finishing with a jumper or cardigan. Make sure that items aren’t inside out, and that all buttons, zippers and fastenings are undone. If the person needs help, gently suggest the next item to put on or hand it to them.

Clear, simple instructions are helpful if they become confused, for example ‘put your arm in the sleeve,’ or ‘put your foot through that trouser leg’. Try not to worry if the person makes mistakes. You might find a way to laugh about the situation if it feels appropriate and offer them help to correct it. 

3. Reduce the options 

Choosing what to wear every day is one small but important personal choice. Giving a person with dementia the choice of what they would like to wear each day can help them feel independent and confident. However, too much choice can be overwhelming. If the person appears unsure or confused, try reducing the number of options to just a couple of their favourite items.

Keep favourite clothing somewhere that’s easily accessible, so it's always close to hand. 

4. Take it slow 

Giving enough time when dressing can make the experience far more comfortable and relaxing for everyone involved. Rushing a person through the steps can cause distress and anxiety, so keep a slow, steady pace.  

5. Accept the unusual 

If the person makes odd or unusual clothing choices, respect them. It’s more important to let them make their own decisions, as long as their choice isn’t harming them in any way  e.g. wearing a coat on a warm day, wearing trousers in bed.

If there are any problematic items of clothing—for example, a long dress or coat that could be a trip hazard—it may be a good idea to store them somewhere out of view. 

Two women trying on hats

6. Try a visual aid 

Everyone has different style tastes, so never assume you know what they would like to wear, or how they would style their hair or make-up. Keeping photos of how they like to look can help to make the process of getting ready easier.  

7. Think about layering 

Several layers of thin clothing are far easier to adapt during the day than one or two thick layers which can’t be removed. This way, if they’re feeling too warm, a layer can be removed. Too cold, and another can be added.  

8. Change clothes regularly 

Changing clothes regularly, especially if they’re dirty, is important. However, someone living with dementia may be resistant to this change. If they’re reluctant to get changed, swap the items out for fresh ones when they’re bathing, or let them know you’d love to see them wearing something smart and clean.

Not everybody is used to changing their clothing every day; this should be respected, as long as their clothing isn’t becoming a hygiene issue or making them unsafe.  

9. Create a comfortable environment 

Daily dressing can be an enjoyable experience if it’s kept positive, so think about the surroundings. Is the room warm enough? Do you need to turn on a light or draw the curtains? Ask them if they would like to go to the toilet beforehand. Small adjustments can make all the difference.  

10. Try shopping together 

When shopping for new clothes, it’s a good idea to think how practical they might be. Look for clothing that is easy to put on or take off, such as trousers with no fastenings and an elasticated waistband, or tops that fasten with velcro rather than going over the person's head. 

While it might be nice to have lots of new items to choose from to wear, someone living with dementia may not recognise them as their own items and refuse to wear them. Picking out multiple of a favourite item they wear often can help them feel confident in their choice and comfortable when dressing.

More help with dressing

For more help making dressing a positive experience, read our Dressing factsheet or browse our shop for suitable items. 

Advice on dressing Browse the shop
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13 comments

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I found that bracers were easier for my husband than a belt

My husband has difficulty with open ended zips and zipped pockets. He tries to get into the pockets from the inside.....I am going to go through his wardrobe and remove all suspect clothing!

I’ve enjoyed reading this. I try to let my dad do as much as possible.i gently support whilst he pulls up his trousers for instance.

Thank you for this article, I found it very useful although my husband hasn't reached this stage in his diagnosis yet, he is still able to look after himself. One thing explained was the reluctance to wear new clothes they are unfamiliar with, I find this a bone of contention with my husband because he just will not buy new clothes so I have bought him some, he hasn't worn them all yet but one jumper that is a familiar colour he has taken to.

Like a lot of people my wife has far too many clothes and also like lots of us, she has her favourites. When it comes to going out, she gets very confused as to what to wear so I’m thinking that maybe the time has come to downsize her wardrobe so as to make it easier for her to decide what to wear. Might make it easier for me to know what’s clean and what’s dirty as well. I guess it’s all about making life easier for them and then hopefully making life easier for us the carers in the process.

Yes I’ve found that with mum .
If I change the look or style of clothes she won’t wear them .
She won’t come shopping and hates spending money .
So I buy her the same or similar things and take away the old .
She’s happy with that . Even if I tell her she won’t remember. So I have to do it when she’s out of her room

My Mum used to refuse help to change and wash wearing the same clothes for days and weeks if I didn't intervene.
She used to undress and leave clothes on the floor next to bed every night.
Bingo ! I went out and bought 10 of every the same. I would go to her home knowing she would be asleep , creep upstairs and drop her clean clothes on the floor unfolded and take back to my house for washing. This saved my pride Mums dignity and she didn't smell when she was going out to the shops.
Most importantly all for both of us it avoided conflict .

Thank you all very much. This article gave me an idea about what I should do. My dad has dementia and it’s not easy at all. The comments are also really helpful too. Thanks.

Hi, My husband has a lot of the issues that all the people have the forgetfulness is all the time I have to repeat my self all the time. My husband eat very well gets his greens because he loves salads. I try to be very patient with him but it’s hard. I’m hanging in their it’s my job as a wife . They say through sickness and health. Thanks

It is a struggle if like my husband not slways cooperative. As u say
in sickness and in health. My husband has only just been diagnosed
but I see there will be problems ahead. Very proud and independent,
stubborn too. Any advice welcome.

Hi Susan, we're sorry to learn about the struggles you're facing with your husband.
We recently published an article titled 'How to offer help to someone with dementia who doesn’t want it', which you might find useful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/how-offer-help-someone-dementia-who-…
For specialised information and advice, please call our Helpline to speak with our expert advisers: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline
Alternatively, join Dementia Talking Point to chat with other people in your situation: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…
We hope this helps.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

My grandmother has a hard time accepting that everyone needs to bathe everyday or every other day. The only way I can get her into the shower is if I put myself in the shower with her as well. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated, thanks !

Hi Rebecca, thanks for your comment.
Sorry to hear about your grandmother - that sounds like a difficult situation.
We have a factsheet with information and tips for washing and bathing which you may find useful. You can view it online or order a free copy here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/washing-and-bath…
If you need any further support, don't hesitate to contact our helpline to speak with one of our dementia advisers: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline
I hope this is helpful,
--
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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