Avoiding the “War of the Wardrobe”

If your relative has dementia and is wearing mismatched or inappropriate clothing, it’s time to step in. He or she has likely lost awareness of personal appearance. Also gone is awareness of the need for a sweater when it’s cold. Or a lighter shirt when it’s hot.

As much as possible, allow your loved one to continue dressing independently and make clothing choices. It is good brain stimulation and supports a sense of personal dignity.

Here are some tips to avoid conflict over clothes:

  • Simplify choices. Hang favorite outfits together in the closet: shirt, pants, accessories, all on the same hanger. If your loved one has a preferred outfit, buy several! Then he or she can wear that beloved plaid shirt every day and still be clean. (At the end of the day, when your relative isn’t looking, put the soiled clothes in the laundry.)
  • Winnow the wardrobe. When your relative is not around, go through closets and dressers to eliminate excess. Keep only what’s easy for him or her to put on and take off. For example, shirts and dresses that open in the front, pants with elastic waistbands, and shoes that close with Velcro. Remove garments that no longer fit.
  • Stash special occasion clothes. Store them in a separate place. You don’t want Mom putting on her fancy dress to come to breakfast.
  • Consider the weather. Pack away clothing that is not appropriate so your loved one has only choices that match the season.
  • Establish a routine. Set a regular time of day for dressing. If you are laying out your loved one’s clothes, put them in the order they should be used (undergarments on top, pants and skirts on the bottom). Hide shoes until last.

Reduce rushing. Allow extra time. A hurried environment just leads to confusion and potential resistance to getting dressed.