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Instead of asking my sister, “What would you like to wear today?” I lay out two outfits on the bed and ask her which one she would like to wear.

Every time I visited my mother she was wearing exactly the same clothes. She had plenty of other things in her wardrobe but she wouldn’t wear them. We’d argue when I tried to get her to change. So I bought her some more clothes the same as the ones she likes. She doesn’t notice when I put out the clean ones while she’s in bed. Now she’s cleaner and we’re both more relaxed because I’ve stopped nagging her.

People with dementia often find it difficult to get dressed due to memory loss (e.g. remembering what order to put clothes on) and physical problems (e.g. manipulating buttons). Sometimes, due to a lack of motivation, they lose interest in dressing well or even object to changing their clothes. This attitude might sadden you, particularly if the person with dementia always used to take a pride in their appearance. You might also find that you need more and more time to help them to dress and that this is interfering with your daily routine. However, there a few measures you can take to help the person manage alone as far as possible and regain or maintain their self-esteem, without making dressing more of a burden on yourself.

Cleanliness and dressing

If you have difficulty convincing the person with dementia to get changed, you might be able to replace dirty clothes with clean ones at night. However, they might object to this or think that people are stealing their clothes. In such cases, you might find it easier to purchase similar clothes so that it is not as noticeable. Some people with dementia suffer from incontinence (please refer to chapter on incontinence). They may therefore find it particularly embarrassing to change clothes in front of you and may refuse to get changed for this reason. If the person with dementia has had an “accident”, you will probably find that it helps both at the time and in the long run to have an understanding, non-critical attitude.

Assistance, encouragement, reassurance and compliments

There are several ways that you can provide assistance, e.g. prompting, explaining what to do, demonstrating what to do, physically assisting, laying out clothes in the order they should be put on, etc. It is important that you provide just the right amount of assistance so that the person with dementia retains a certain degree of independence and does not lose the incentive to try. If they repeatedly fail, it is natural that they will lose interest in trying. For this reason it is important to allow sufficient time to dress, provide encouragement to carry on and reassure the person. You should try not to draw unnecessary attention to mistakes but, depending on the person concerned, it might be possible to use humour to make light of mistakes. If they have lost the incentive to make an effort, you might find that giving the occasional compliment helps. Noticing that they look good in something and taking the trouble to comment on it, might make the person more interested in trying.

Choosing what to wear

It might help to reduce stress and confusion if you provide a choice of no more than two outfits. When selecting outfits, try to bear in mind the person’s personality, style and past habits. For example, a man who always wore suits might feel ill at ease in jeans or a tracksuit. Similarly, certain women might object to wearing trousers. You could also remove inappropriate clothing from the wardrobe to avoid the person wanting to put summer clothes on in winter and vice versa. Certain articles of clothing, fastenings and accessories tend to be difficult for people with dementia to handle. However, if you can manage to adapt clothes or choose new ones which are easier to handle, they will have a better chance of managing alone and you may find it easier to provide assistance. The following table provides a few guidelines.


  • velcro fasteners
  • long zips
  • slip on shoes
  • ornamental buckles/laces
  • elasticated waists
  • front fastening bras
  • loose fitting garments with ample arm space
  • pullovers with loose necks

May pose difficulties:

  • buttons or hooks
  • short zips
  • lace up shoes
  • buckle fastening shoes
  • belts and braces
  • back fastening bras
  • tight fitting clothes
  • self supporting tights (circulation problems)

If you notice that certain articles of clothing always prove difficult, you might be able to find an alternative. For example, if the person with dementia finds it difficult to manipulate buckles on shoes, you could replace the shoes with slip-ons or help them to fasten the buckle. If they particularly like buckles, you could look for slip-on shoes with a decorative one.

Simplify the process of putting on make-up

Many women do not feel properly dressed unless they are wearing make-up. However, the symptoms of dementia can make it difficult to continue doing so. Men might feel awkward or unsure about how to help. However, it is not necessary to know how to make up a face perfectly to be able to help a woman with dementia. You could advise on which colours to use, remind her to use blusher or lipstick, help opening containers or tubes and make sure that the make-up is properly rubbed in so that it doesn't look patchy. It would probably help if you could simplify the process and then prompt or provide any necessary assistance to complete the task. The end result might not be magnificent but it might help her to maintain an interest in her appearance and to boost her self-esteem.



Last Updated: Thursday 06 August 2009