How to support a person with dementia to get dressed or change clothes

Helping someone with dementia choose what to wear is important. You will be helping them to make their own choices, make sure they are clean and comfortable, and to express their own identity and personal style.

Wherever possible, ask the person what they would like to put on. Someone with dementia can still choose what they would like to wear. Too many options can be confusing, so you could offer them the choice of only two items of clothing at a time.

Speak to the person about what clothes might be most suitable for what they are doing later, and what the weather is like. Is what they plan to wear suitable? If not, gently suggest alternatives. Respect the person’s choice of what to wear.

As long as it doesn’t harm them, you should accept the person dressing in an unusual way, or wearing clothing that may be viewed as out of place. If the person is determined to wear clothing that does not ‘match’ for example, respect their choice. 

Problems with dressing, and practical help

People with dementia may have difficulties dressing. As well as making choices, physically putting on clothing can be more difficult, especially if they have any mobility issues. It may help to look for clothes that are easy to put on and take off.

This may be clothes with larger neck and arm openings, front fastenings, Velcro fastenings, magnetic buttons or poppers rather than buttons or no fastenings – or to make some adaptations to the clothes they already have.

You could use photographs of outfits to give the person a prompt of what goes with what, or make choices about what they wear, which will help them to feel like themselves.

What a person with dementia wears may help them understand where they are and what they are doing. For example, if they are dressed formally they may think they need to go to work. If they are dressed in clothing they usually relax in, this will remind them that they are not at work. Similarly, wearing nightwear may make the person think that it is time for bed. It is good to change into day-wear even if they are not going out or having visitors, to maintain a sense of routine.

If someone is not enjoying wearing something it may cause them distress or discomfort. This could be because it is physically uncomfortable, they are sensitive to certain textures, they don’t like it, or it is new and seems unfamiliar.

Helping a person dress and feel comfortable: tips for carers

Helping the person feel comfortable while getting dressed, and in the clothes they wear, is important. Remember that the person may no longer be able to tell you if they are too hot or cold, or if clothing doesn’t fit correctly, so watch for signs of discomfort.

Getting the fit right

Think about the comfort of their clothing, and how easy it is to put on and take off. For example, boxer shorts are usually easier to put on than Y-fronts.

Wearing an ill-fitting bra may be uncomfortable, and going without a bra or wearing one that gives too little support can cause back pain. If the person has lost or put on weight, they may need a different size. Many shops offer a bra fitting service, which you can arrange in advance. The person may have a preference for underwired or non-wired bras. Sleep bras also offer light support at night or in the evenings, and front fastening bras can be easier to put on.

While comfortable, slippers shouldn’t be worn for more than a few hours, as they may not support the person’s feet enough. Slippers also encourage shuffling, which doesn’t allow the leg muscles and joints to work correctly.

When helping a person with dementia choose comfortable clothing, you should:

  • make sure that items are not inside out, and that buttons, zips and fasteners are done up
  • try well-fitting slip-on shoes, or shoes with Velcro fastenings, or replace regular shoelaces with elastic ones. Shoes with laces may be difficult for someone with dementia to manage
  • try buckle-free belts, which fasten with Velcro, and clip-on ties, which are safer and easier to use
  • try several thin layers of clothing, particularly in cold weather, rather than one thick layer, as they can then remove a layer if it gets too warm
  • avoid self-supporting stockings, as they can cause circulation problems
  • try specially designed trousers, with a drop-down front, to make using the toilet easier for men.
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Making dressing a positive experience: tips for carers

There are practical things you can do to make getting dressed a more positive experience for a person with dementia. For example, if the person seems shy, reluctant or embarrassed, you could turn around and let the person put on their own clothes as much as they are able to, turning back to help them.

Helping the person to dress may mean supporting them to make choices, or allowing them to dress themselves as much as they are able to, at their own pace.

Here are some tips to help a person feel more comfortable while dressing:

  • Provide a chair with arms if the person has poor balance, so they can sit if they need to.
  • Ask the person if they would like to go to the toilet before getting dressed.
  • If the person is able to dress themselves, place labels on drawers where particular items of clothing are kept, or store whole outfits together. This will help them to find outfits. If using labels, a combination of pictures and words may be clearer than words alone and easier to understand.
  • If the person has lots of clothes, put the things they wear most often somewhere easy to reach. This will make it simpler for them to choose.
  • Lay out clothes on a non-patterned background in the order the person will put them on (starting with underwear and ending with a cardigan or jumper, for example). If they need prompting, remind them which item comes next or hand them the one that they need.
  • If the person is confused, give instructions in very small steps, such as, ‘Now put your arm through the sleeve’. It may help to use gestures to demonstrate these instructions.
  • If mistakes are made – for example, by putting something on the wrong way round – be tactful. Try to find a way for you both to laugh about it.
  • Compliment them on the way they look and encourage them to take pride in their appearance.
  • The person may like to wear accessories such as jewellery or a watch. These can have sentimental value and the person should be supported to wear these.
  • If the person’s clothing choices are causing a problem (such as a long dress or coat that may cause someone to trip and fall), you may want to consider putting away these items so that the person is not tempted to wear them. For more information see Changes in behaviour.

Shopping for clothes together

If you’re buying clothes for the person with dementia, try to take them with you, so that they can choose the style and colours they prefer. If shopping and trying on is difficult, you can order online or from catalogues, so the
person can try on the clothes they like at home.

Tips for carers when shopping together:

  • Shop in places that are familiar to the person and which match their style and preferences.
  • If shop staff know the person, they should be able to help make the experience more enjoyable.
  • Remember that large, busy shops with lots of choice may feel overwhelming.
  • Check the person’s size before buying. They may have lost or gained weight without realising.
  • Buy from retailers who accept returns. The person can then choose the clothes they like and try them on at home. Trying on clothes in an unfamiliar changing room can be disorientating and difficult.
  • If the person with dementia needs help trying on clothes, ask for an accessible changing room, which will have enough space for two people.
  • Look for clothes that are machine washable and need little ironing, as this will save time. Easy-fasten clothes can also be helpful, see ‘Helping a person dress and feel comfortable: tips for carers’ on this page.
  • The person with dementia may not recognise that new clothes belong to them. If they have no memory of buying them, they may not want to wear them. It may be better to buy more of the clothes that the person likes and is familiar with, rather than something different.
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