For older people with disabilities and issues such as less flexibility in their fingers, even small changes to their dressing routine and wardrobe can make a big difference.
By changing routines, buying more suitable clothing or using aids such as button hooks, putting on or taking off clothes doesn’t need to be such a difficult task for your loved one.
On this page you can read about:
1. Dressing tips for those with physical disabilities
2. Dressing tips for those who are partially sighted
3. Dressing tips for those with dementia
4. Clothing adaptations and aids
5. Clothes storage
Dressing tips for those with physical disabilities
A physical disability can sometimes make everyday tasks such as putting on clothes difficult, but there are things you and your relative can do to improve the situation. Even small adjustments to their usual dressing routine can make a difference.
Keeping a chair in the bedroom will allow your loved one to sit down while they dress and undress. This can help with any balance problems and makes it easier to put on socks and shoes, while also easing your relative’s discomfort and reducing potential pain.
A chair with a firm seat and arms will be easier to manage than sitting on the side of the bed, and the arms will help your relative stand up after they have got dressed. To make the routine as smooth as possible, try to make sure that all clothes are within easy reach of the chair.
Adapted clothing and aids
If your relative has physical problems, which mean they struggle with ordinary buttons and small openings, there is a range of clothing with special features that can help. You might like to consider:
- magnetic buttons
- back overflaps
- slip-resistant shoes
- elastic shoelaces.
There are also many clothing aids available, from dressing sticks to button hooks, that can help with dressing. You'll find more detailed information about these further down this page.
Helping your loved one
If you have to physically help your relative to get dressed, allow him or her to do as much as possible themselves.
Often it’s easier for people with physical problems to take clothes off, so maybe your relative only needs help putting clothes on. Some people are also able to dress their upper body and just need help with trousers or skirts.
Dressing tips for those who are partially sighted
If your relative is partially sighted, good organisation is key to making the dressing routine as simple as possible.
It's crucial that your relative organises their own clothes – perhaps with your help – as the best organisation in the world won’t help if he or she isn’t familiar with the system.
As a first step, chat about how happy they are with their current clothes situation. This is particularly important if their sight is deteriorating or the eyesight problem is a recent one.
It may be helpful for you to go through his or her wardrobe together to check that the clothes don’t have holes or stains, as this may be something they’re not able to check themselves and that could be a source of anxiety.
If and when you do make adjustments to the wardrobe or clothes, such as labelling drawers and cupboards, make sure you do this with your relative’s full involvement and agreement. You can get more tips on how to raise difficult subjects with your loved one in our guide to Talking about care options.
Clothing aids can also be useful for those with sight problems - you can find more information a little further down this page.
Dressing tips for those with dementia
If your relative has dementia, any, and how much, help they will need with dressing depends on how advanced their dementia is.
He or she may be physically able to take their clothes on and off - but are unable to remember the correct order in which to put clothes on, or they may not know what time of day it is so be confused about whether to put on their pyjamas or day clothes.
The early stages of dementia
If your relative has just been diagnosed with dementia, it's important to encourage a morning and evening routine of washing and dressing to ensure he or she understands and can relate to the time of day. It's particularly important to encourage independence and choice as much as possible.
Perhaps your relative only needs simple prompts at this stage, or they may appreciate you laying out the clothes that they need to wear and then they can finish getting dressed themselves.
The later stages of dementia
If your relative’s condition changes, it may be necessary to change the amount of help you, or a care worker, provides for them. At the later stage of dementia, you may need to hand your loved one each item of clothing in order for them to manage to get dressed.
Although it takes longer and may feel frustrating, it’s important for your relative to feel they are still involved and making choices at this point. Routines that are well established - like dressing and washing – can often be kept up for longer if your loved one is given the time and encouragement to do as much as possible for themselves.
The importance of labels
Clearly labelled clothing storage can be very helpful for someone with dementia, particularly drawers and cupboards.
It’s also a good idea to check that the clothes are stored neatly and within easy reach, as all of this will help your relative get dressed.
Clothing adaptations and aids
Many aspects of getting dressed can be made easier by choosing suitable clothes and footwear. For example, zips and Velcro are both easier to fasten than small buttons or shoelaces; easier still are clothes that don’t require fastening at all.
If you’re handy with sewing, you may even be able to make adaptations to some of your relative's favourite garments so they can still put them on or off. They may like to consider some of these adaptations:
- magnetic buttons rather than traditional buttons
- elasticated waist bands
- Velcro fastenings on shoes instead of laces
- bras and underwear with front fastenings or side openings.
There is also a large range of clothing aids available to help make it easier for your relative to put their clothes on, including:
- Button hooks: a comfortable plastic handle attached to a metal loop, helping to fasten buttons on clothes such as cardigans.
- Zip grips: to help your relative pull zips up or down.
- Dressing sticks: a wooden stick with a rubber tip at one end and a double wire hook at the other, used to pull on or push off garments, such as socks, that cannot be reached easily.
- Long-handled shoehorns: to help with putting on shoes.
- Grabber sticks (or pick-up stick): not only useful for picking items up off the floor, this can also be used to help pull trousers or underwear over the feet.
- Bra angel: this tool allows people to independently manage a bra fastening with the use of only one hand.
If your relative has problems with their eyesight, it may be worth considering items that can help them identify different clothes, such as:
- audio labellers
- tactile markers
- special buttons.
This could allow them to continue to choose their own clothing rather than rely on someone else to make these decisions for them.
On our Useful organisations and websites page we have links to websites where you or your relative can buy adapted clothes and clothing aids.
It can be a good idea to consider how your relative’s clothing is being stored and whether it is appropriate for their needs.
Tall wardrobes with high rails and low drawers may no longer be suitable, for example, if he or she has a physical disability or a mobility problem. Wardrobes with sliding doors are easier to open, particularly if your relative uses a walking aid.
You can also think about having a light fitted in the wardrobe if your relative has problems with their eyesight.
Even making small changes to clothing storage systems, such as labelling drawers, can make a big difference, and in some cases it may be all that is required for your relative to stay independent in their dressing routine.
However, there are also other options, such as having drop-down rails in wardrobes or replacing chests of drawer units with wire baskets or clear drawers, if your relative requires a bit more help.
- Safety in the bathroom: find out how bath boards, grab rails and bath lifts can help make the bathroom a safer place.
- Sheltered housing: if your relative is finding it increasingly difficult to live independently, it may be time to consider an alternative.
- Managing your relative’s financial affairs: you can find advice and information here about power of attorney and helping with day-to-day finances.
Page last reviewed: September 2016
Next review due: November 2018