Helping your loved one with dressing is an important way to preserve dignity and feelings of being respected. Due to both memory loss and apraxia, choosing and putting on clothing can be difficult for a person with Alzheimer's disease. The following strategies and tips will help your loved one maintain her appearance and maximize her self-esteem.
Use Clothing and Jewelry to Reflect Your Loved One's Past
To maintain your loved one's dignity and quality of life, it is important to consider the kinds of clothing and jewelry that made her feel good in her previous life roles. Even though sweatpants and jogging outfits may be easier to put on, the trade-off in self-esteem that may occur if your loved one preferred dresses and finer outfits may be too great. A person with Alzheimer's disease may look at herself in the mirror wearing casual attire and not even recognize herself, leading to anxiety and agitation. On the other hand, keep in mind that in general, cardigans, shirts, and blouses that button in front are easier to work with than pullover tops, and comfortable non-slip footwear is also recommended.
Just as when you help your loved one with meals by offering one food item at a time, they may feel overwhelmed if too many clothing options are presented at once. Instead of going to the closet together and saying "Why don't you choose the dress you'd like to wear today?," it may be better to take three dresses out yourself and ask which one of them she would prefer to wear today.
Provide Direction and Distractions When Appropriate
Laying out clothing in the order that each should be put on is recommended, along with handing your loved one just one item at a time while giving short, simple, but direct instructions, such as "Let's put on your shirt," as opposed to "Let's get dressed now." This is the time to use your best communication techniques, including speaking slowly and clearly, offering praise, and not being rushed. If your loved one is prone to getting agitated or aggressive during dressing, it's smart to have distractions available, such as food or drink, simple puzzles, photos, music or greeting cards to look at. Having your loved one get dressed at around the same time each day is also a good idea when possible.
Consider Getting Duplicate Outfits
This suggestion, which comes from the Alzheimer's Association, seems ingenious to me. If your loved one wants to wear the same outfit repeatedly, it will help to have another one handy. Similarly, if a favorite outfit gets lost or misplaced, it is possible your loved one will become convinced it was stolen. Again, having another one at the ready may help in that regard.
Specific Clothing Ideas
Other clothing ideas to consider include using undershirts in place of bras, and using loose fitting socks or stockings to prevent ankle swelling. Finally, since buttons, snaps, and zippers may become too difficult for your loved one to use, consider using Velcro instead.
Kovach, Christine R., ed. (1997). Late Stage Dementia Care: A Basic Guide. Washington, D.C.: Taylor and Francis.
Alzheimer's Association. Accessed: September 2, 2010. Dressing and Grooming