Understanding Dementia: Dressing and Grooming
By Mary Bates, MS, CT, Certified Dementia Practitioner
Helping a person with dementia maintain their appearance can boost their self-esteem. However, as a person’s dementia progresses one may have difficulty with basic tasks as abilities and understanding changes. Even the most basic tasks such as getting dressed, combing our hair, brushing our teeth or shaving can become a challenge.
Maintaining a sense of independence is critically important for the person living with dementia. Be sure to engage the person in every step to help them feel safe and secure. Try not to display shock or disbelief if layers of clothing are donned incorrectly; often the person with dementia may not have full ability to sequence, i.e. wearing undergarments underneath clothes.
Keeping a consistent routine can help everyone know what to expect and lessens confusion. Try using short, simple instructions, one at a time to help lessen frustration and anxiety.
The following tips from the Alzheimer’s Association may help:
- Simplify: Empty closets and drawers of excess clothing. Let the person select their favorite outfits or colors, but keep it simple by providing just a couple of choices each day. Don’t worry if they want to wear a plaid top with striped pants; just be sure the clothing is appropriate for the season. If your loved one wants to wear the same clothes each day, purchase multiples of the shirts, pants, sweaters, etc.
- Organize: Lay out the clothing in the order that it is put on, and if needed, hand each item to your loved one and give simple instructions such as “put your arms in the sleeves.”
- Label: In the earlier stages of dementia, the person may just need a little guidance to find the clothing they are going to wear that day. To help them locate the items, tape a photo of what is in each drawer, such as socks, underwear, or sweaters, and what is hanging in the closet.
- Comfortable Clothing: Blouses, shirts and sweaters that button in front are easier than pullover tops. Soft, stretchable fabrics with elastic waists will feel the most comfortable. When buttons, snaps and zippers become difficult, consider using Velcro®.
- Shoes: Choose slip on shoes that fit well and have non-slip soles. Put away high heels, shoes with laces, (Velcro® tabs are a better choice) and shoes that don’t offer support.
- Hair Care: If your loved one has always gone to the hair salon or barber, continue these outings as long as they feel comfortable. Some hairdressers and barbers make house calls, which could be appropriate for your loved one if going out makes them anxious.
- Makeup: Women who have always used makeup may not feel dressed without their lipstick, foundation or powder, but keep it simple and avoid glittery makeup as well as eye makeup.
- Mime the Action: Comb your hair, brush your teeth or apply deodorant and encourage your loved one to mimic your motions if they’ve forgotten how to do these tasks.
- Toiletries: Your loved one will appreciate the familiarity of using their favorite lotions, shaving cream, aftershave, toothpaste and mouth freshener, although you may have to provide guidance on how to use the products.
- Be Safe: Replace razors with electric shavers. As nail clippers may be difficult for your loved one to maneuver, step in and clip their nails for them or schedule a “spa day” at their favorite salon for a manicure/pedicure.
Above all, be flexible and use humor. If the day isn’t going quite the way you hoped, let it go. Getting dressed and groomed is important, but so is your well-being and that of your loved one. Sharing a laugh with them can lighten the mood and offer a distraction if a difficult situation arises.
Mary Bates, MS, CT, is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She is the Assisted Living and Memory Care Director of Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, and respite care.
Through this column, Mary will share the experience, knowledge, and resources she and her team rely on, anticipating that it will be useful for anyone living with, caring for, or coming into contact with a person with dementia. Send your questions to Understanding Dementia at Summit, 56 Summit Drive, Whitefield, NH 03598 or email email@example.com. Mary will share information and answer as many questions as possible through this column.