Making dressing a positive experience

Helping a person to look the way they want is an important way of maintaining their confidence- read how to make this the best experience possible.

  1. Dressing
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Compliment them on the way they look and encourage them to take pride in their appearance.

Allow enough time

If you are helping someone with dementia to dress, allow plenty of time so that neither of you feels rushed. They may take longer to process information than they used to and this may affect their ability to make choices. If you can make dressing an enjoyable activity, the person will feel more relaxed and confident.

  • Try to use the time to chat about what you are doing and anything else that might be of interest.
  • If the person resists your efforts to help, try leaving them for a while. They may be more willing to co-operate if you try again a little later.

Other aspects of grooming

Remember that if the person with dementia has been used to wearing make-up, hair products or jewellery, and wants to continue doing so, they may need help to put it on. Similarly they may like to continue using aftershave or perfume.

It is really important to be aware of what the person with dementia usually likes and not to make assumptions about how they would like to look. Photographs are a good way of remembering how the person likes to wear their hair, make-up or accessories. You could also photograph complete outfits to give the person a prompt of what goes with what.

The person might be used to going to the beauty salon or hairdressers and may want to continue to do this. Some people may prefer to have a hairdresser come to their house.

Practical ideas for what to wear

People with dementia may have difficulties dressing. It may help to look for clothes that are easy to put on and take off, such as clothes with larger neck openings, front fastenings or no fastenings - or to make some adaptations to the clothes they already have.

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

The following tips may be useful in helping a person choose what to wear.

  • Use Velcro fastenings or poppers rather than buttons.
  • Shoes with laces may be difficult for someone with dementia to manage. Try well-fitting slip-on shoes or shoes with Velcro fastenings, or replace shoelaces with elastic.
  • The person shouldn't wear slippers for more than a few hours, as they may not offer enough support to the feet.
  • For women, going without a bra may be uncomfortable. Some women may find it easier to manage a front-opening bra. Try to avoid self-supporting stockings, as they can cause circulation problems.
    For men, boxer shorts are usually easier to manage than Y-fronts.
  • Remember that the way a person with dementia looks will help them to understand what they are doing.
  • For example, if they are dressed for work 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 during the day may make the person think that it is time for bed.

More information and resources

Last reviewed: April 2015
Next review due: April 2018

Our information is based on evidence and need, and is regularly updated using quality-controlled processes. It is reviewed by experts in health and social care and people affected by dementia.

Reviewed by: Chia Sui Hong and Jane Hibberd, Lecturers in Occupational Therapy, University of East Anglia

To give feedback on this information, or for a list of sources, please contact [email protected]

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