How Do You Get Someone with Dementia to Change Clothes?

You may face the challenge of how to get someone with dementia to change clothes regularly.  They may refuse to change or just continue to wear the same clothes repeatedly without realising they’re dirty.

The key to getting someone with dementia to change their clothes regularly is understanding why they’re not doing so, what things are acting as obstacles, what tools or steps can help them get dressed and accept that you also have to change your expectations.

What are the Reasons for Someone with Dementia not Changing Their Clothes?

  • The most straightforward reason for someone with dementia not changing their clothes is that they don’t remember, and aren’t aware they haven’t changed them or believe that they have done so already. 
  • A person with dementia may not know what day it is without prompts. They may not have realised that they have been wearing the same clothes for several days, even weeks, or refuse to change when you tell your loved one that they’re wearing dirty clothes.  
  • Their sense of smell may have diminished.
  • They may not recognise their clothing, or the colours aren’t bold enough to distinguish them, so rather than seeking help, they stay with the familiar comfort of clothes they wear day in and day out as support.  
  • The whole process of getting dressed might become more complicated. They may be confused about how or what order to put clothes on. You may see that exhibited in unsuitable clothing or clothing put on incorrectly, so they gravitate to clothes that are easier to wear (even though they’ve been wearing them for days).  
  • Many clothes have zippers and buttons which makes them challenging to get on, or they may be restricted in their movement.
  • Are clean clothes easy to find?  Are they in their line of vision for them to see them in the first place?  If you can’t find clean clothes, you can’t put them on.
  • They may be suffering from illnesses like UTIs, which can cause confusion, or feel depressed or apathetic about life and don’t feel like getting dressed. Why bother if I’m staying in all day, for example!

There are so many reasons why it can be challenging for someone with dementia to change their clothes.  Our job is to help and support them by troubleshooting the cause and working to help resolve them or reduce the impact so they can maintain their independence and help get someone with dementia to change clothes. 

What Things are Acting as Obstacles to Get Someone with Dementia to Change their Clothes?

It may be difficult for someone to find their clothes because of issues with their vision & perception. 

  • Are clothes somewhere that is easily accessible and seen? 
  • Are clothes hiding behind cupboard doors that don’t identify their contents or cupboards that are not distinct in colour from the wall colour, making it harder to see them?
  • Are there mirrors that reflect them that could cause them to believe someone else is in the room with them?

We get dressed and changed every morning primarily because we have some purpose to fulfil like going to work, seeing friends, and spending time with family. 

  • If someone with dementia is feeling apathetic or depressed, we need to ensure they get the right help and support. 
  • Build purposeful activity into the day or adventures out where a change of clothes would make sense. 
  • Consult your doctor if you believe they are depressed, and that’s why hygiene issues have slipped.

A simple thing like not knowing how to use the washing machine can act as an obstacle to wearing clean clothes. Do you see them washing undergarments in the sink or elsewhere? It could just be that they need help with their laundry?

It also may be physically overwhelming to get dressed. They may suffer from physical impairment and dementia-related impairments that may mean they need someone to help them get dressed.

You could be a deterrent if you’re rushing them, taking away their choices, or being negative around them. Do they have too many clothes to choose from or to decide what to wear?

So what can we do to help get someone with dementia to change clothes?

What Steps Can You Take to Help Someone with Dementia to Change their Clothes?

Create a Capsule Wardrobe for Dementia

What, I hear you say, isn’t that some trendy thing for youngsters?  Not really. The concept and what it means to create a capsule wardrobe have been around for generations now. It just has a nifty label!  

It’s just editing your wardrobe into paired down seasonal pieces that work well together.  This might mean buying a few new pieces, like adaptive clothing to supplement what you have.  But it’s looking at their entire wardrobe and deciding together what you’re likely to wear in Spring, Summer, mixing pieces and minimising the wardrobe content etc.

  • This can be a great fun activity with your loved one with dementia, get the fashion youngster in your family to help (in small doses, I wouldn’t recommend doing it all in one day.) 
  • Edit the wardrobe down into suitable pieces that you know they find comfortable and easier to put on, and store the rest for the next season. If they want to wear the same clothes every day whatever the weather then that’s their choice.  
  • Review the pieces that they continually wear. Is there a similar pattern, colour, or design they prefer?
  • Try purchasing several exact copies of these clothes so that one can be in the wash whilst the other is being worn.  If you need to supplement a particular style, second-hand sites or shops may have what you’re looking for rather than forking out for new items.

Labelling Furniture Help Someone with Dementia to Find Clothes

Are clothes easy to find? Can they be seen clearly? Have you labelled the wardrobe and chest of drawers to support your loved independence in dressing themselves? If not then these nifty labels can help.

Add Adaptive Clothing to the Wardrobe

Once you’ve edited down the wardrobe, let’s look at if some of the items need to be replaced with clothes with fewer buttons or have velcro, elasticated waists, magnetic openings, side zippers on pants & and larger openings to get them on and off easier.

Don’t forget about the shoes, try slip ons, snap-on laces, or those that fasten with velcro and other more accessible options.

Decide on the Best Place to Put Clothes for the Day

If they’re confused about what to wear, put out all the day’s clothes together on one hanger, or folded in drawers to be put on or placed near the bedside. 

Take Polaroid pictures of the clothes together (on a hanger/or worn) to recreate the finished ensemble easily for someone with dementia (but don’t stress if they don’t follow it!)

If you live with your loved one with dementia, you can probably help get them to change their clothes by removing their dirty ones at night and replacing them with a clean set.

But if they live alone, understanding what their routine is once they go to bed can help you both plan a better way to ensure clothes are changed regularly.

Take Advantage of any Tools/Gadgets that can Help Someone with Dementia change Clothes more Regularly

Why not use dividers,baskets in draws & place daily clothing within them. Label each set with the day of the week as a prompt for your loved one. 

Is the laundry basket marked, so they know to put dirty clothes in there rather than back in a wardrobe (and label the basket to say not be worn again need to be washed”)? 

Have a calendar/calendar clock displayed with the day of the week. Some clocks allow for prompts to be added to support changing clothes.

Use a noticeboard to indicate the clothes for the day & provide a written message to explain!

There are many ways you can organise clothes with your loved one and help someone with dementia change their clothes.

Create a Purpose for Changing Clothes!

Make plans together to do things they love. 

  • Going out to do some window shopping, having a spa day, visiting friends, or going to a dementia support /activity group gives a sense of purpose for getting dressed and having meaning for the day.  It doesn’t have to be every day.
  • It could be once a week, decide together what feels comfortable and when that day comes, big it up, special occasion, let’s get dressed in this outfit, you looked great in that, help instil confidence.

Does Someone with Dementia Need Help to Get Dressed?

Here’s the time your best sleuthing skills come into play! 

  • Are there any physical restrictions which mean that they may need a caregiver to come in and help them get dressed in the morning?
  • Is there something they are embarrassed about but can’t articulate to you as to why they won’t change clothes?
  • Or are they resisting help from you or others? Imagine a stranger trying to put clothes on you don’t recognise & you don’t know why they are forcing you.  Put yourself in their shoes!

Taking your time, explaining what you’re doing, providing reassurance and helping them by miming the activity or demonstrating the steps in order can all help someone with dementia change their clothes.

Time to Change Your Expectations?

Things are changing in your loved one’s life, and you have their best interests at heart. But, that doesn’t mean you get to override their independence or choices. 

So if they’ve soiled their clothing, instead of looking aghast, look cheerful, happy and make up an excuse for the need to change like “you spilt something on yourself there, let’s get some clean clothes”.  A lot of people suggest doing an accidental spill to help, as a last resort maybe but you don’t want to be doing that every time you’re together.

Appearance doesn’t matter if they are happy in their clothes and there are no apparent signs of toileting issues, then let them wear that jumper with a giant tomato ketchup stain, it’s not going to kill them, and at some point, they’ll take it off, for you to swoop in and get it washed.  

Ingenuity, building confidence through praise & enthusiasm, putting tools in place to help remove the obstacles that exist, and changing your expectations will eventually help & get someone with dementia to change clothes.

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