4 Ways to Get Someone with Dementia to Change Clothes

get someone with dementia to change clothes

Many seniors with dementia refuse to change clothes

A common challenge for Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers is figuring out how to get someone with dementia to change clothes regularly.

The damage that dementia does to the brain can cause behavior like this that doesn’t make sense to us.

Your older adult might refuse to change even if their clothes have been worn nonstop for a week and are obviously soiled and smelly. Or, they might insist on wearing the same outfit day or night. And sometimes they might choose clothing that completely clashes and looks strange.

We explain 6 possible reasons for their refusal to change and share 4 ways to get someone with dementia to change clothes more often.




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6 possible causes for refusing to change clothes

Understanding what could be causing someone’s refusal to change clothes can help you find an approach that works. It also gives some perspective on the situation and can help you realize that your older adult isn’t doing this on purpose.

1. Impaired memory or judgement

  • Forgets that they haven’t changed clothes in a long time or thinks that they changed recently
  • Is losing the ability to keep track of time
  • Forgets that the clothes are dirty after taking them off
  • Is no longer making good choices

2. Need for control

  • Insists on independently making their own choices even if their judgement is impaired

3. Need for comfort and security

  • Is comforted by the familiarity or routine of wearing the same clothing

4. Struggles with everyday tasks

  • Is overwhelmed by the choices and steps needed to get dressed
  • Has difficulty with the physical motions required to dress and undress
  • Has body aches and pains or being easily fatigued makes changing clothes and/or doing laundry too difficult

5. Feeling overstimulated or uncomfortable

  • Avoids clothing items that have distracting patterns or colors, difficult fasteners, or uncomfortable fit

6. Weakened or dulled senses

  • Can’t smell the odors caused by wearing soiled clothing
  • Doesn’t notice or see stains or dirt

 

Is it really necessary?

We’ve gotten used to changing our clothes every day and switching to pajamas for sleeping. But neither are strictly necessary for health or hygiene.

If their clothing is not soiled, your older adult may not need to change every day. After all, many people regularly wear their shirts and pants a couple times before putting them in the laundry.

And if your older adult is clean enough and comfortable, there’s no reason why they can’t wear the same outfit during the day as well as for sleeping at night if that’s what they prefer – especially if they’re wearing comfortable loungewear.

Sometimes it’s a matter of timing. Your older adult might be tired, cranky, or not feel like changing at that moment. Plus, if your older adult isn’t leaving the house, they may not feel that the effort to change is needed – especially if dressing is tiring or physically difficult.

Before asking a reluctant person to change clothes, consider if it’s really necessary or if it can wait until later or another day.




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4 ways to get someone with dementia to change clothes

1. Avoid using logic and reason to convince them

  • Avoid using logic or criticism, like saying “Dad, you’ve been wearing the same clothes all week and they’re disgustingly dirty and smelly!” Hearing that would put anyone on the defensive. Plus, the logic and reason is likely to confuse someone with dementia – making them even more sensitive.
  • Because of the damage that dementia has caused in their brain, they’ll insist on believing their own thoughts and memory over yours, no matter what the facts are.

2. Get clever or sneaky

  • Wait for them to fall asleep and then remove dirty clothes from their room and replace with fresh clothes.
  • Buy identical replacement outfits (same color and style) so you can replace them without your older adult noticing (if that’s an issue) and so you can wash one set while the other is being worn.
  • If they sleep in the same clothes they wear during the day, your only option may be to quietly replace with fresh clothes while they’re bathing.

3. Make dressing easier

  • Clear out the closet so there are fewer options and less decisions to make. And if you make sure that everything already matches, that makes dressing even easier.
  • Choose clothing in favorite solid colors instead of potentially distracting or confusing patterns.
  • Remove clothing that isn’t appropriate for the season.
  • Choose clothes that are easy to put on and take off – consider adaptive clothing with specialized fasteners
  • If you lay out their clothing, do it in the same order every day.
  • Give them plenty of time to dress themselves so they don’t feel rushed or get flustered

4. Gain perspective on the situation

  • Ask yourself if you’re bothered by their choice of clothing because you don’t like it or if there’s actual soiling or odor that’s causing a problem.
  • Let go of embarrassment if you think an outfit isn’t appropriate, but your older adult loves it (assuming it’s clean and weather-appropriate). For example, your formerly conservative mom now only wants to wear sweatshirts with a picture of a cartoon character rather than a proper button-up cardigan. The priority is for her to be clean, comfortable, and happy.
  • Ask yourself if you’re more concerned about following current societal norms of changing and bathing daily rather than what’s needed to maintain health.

 

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Dependability


3 Comments

  • Reply December 20, 2018

    Gayl Weinheimer

    My partner has mild to medium dementia. He also has COPD and a sacral ulcer. I need information on how to balance his physical needs with the dementia. I find redirection doesn’t work if he needs to move which is difficult. The Alzheimer’s association does not have any relevant info or services. To get medical services he is classed as housebound.

    • Reply December 21, 2018

      DailyCaring

      I’m sorry to hear about your partner’s health issues. It’s definitely a challenge to care for someone’s physical conditions when they have dementia and aren’t able to follow important directions.

      It often comes down to thinking of creative solutions that fit the specific need and situation and going through a bit of trial and error to see which approaches work better.

      As an example, let’s say you needed for him to not touch anything while you change a bandage. In that case, you could give him something to hold or fiddle with, like a fidget toy (get ideas here: https://amzn.to/2RbiBM3 and https://amzn.to/2R86oba) or a stuffed animal that brings comfort. That way, he’ll have something to keep him occupied and hopefully he won’t move around while you take care of the bandage.

      You may also want to consider joining some online dementia caregiver groups. They’re filled with thousands of members who are going through similar experiences and you may be able to get ideas and suggestions from them. Here are some that we recommend — https://dailycaring.com/11-caregiver-support-groups-on-facebook-youll-want-to-join/

    • Reply January 31, 2019

      Donna Spencer

      Hi, Gayle. I found this same situation with my father. He is very resistant to changing clothes. Through trial and error, we found a couple of ideas that have extremely helped reduce his agitation during this time. One, we discovered he does well using the same order of steps each time we help him get dressed. First, we unbutton his shirt (bottom to top, for some reason that works best), then keeping all the other steps in the same pattern, including shoes and socks. This makes the dressing predictable and less confusing. We also found that he hates dressing because he gets cold. We keep a small portable heater in the dressing area and leave his undershirt on whenever possible when changing. He also has adaptive clothing (snaps in back so shirts don’t go over his head) which he hates. (You can cut a shirt down the back and use Velcro or snaps on the overlap).The less he has to move, the better changing goes. I hope this helps. I was very surprised this article did not mention the two main factors involved in changing reluctance – pain from movement and temperature changes. Most dementia clients have difficulty in regulating body temperature and get cold easily.
      I hope this helps.

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