The OT’s Perspective: Dressing without stressing
How to help your clients to dress in a way that allows them to live independently and have a sense of identity.
Over the past few months, we’ve been looking at various aids that can assist clients in living the life that they want to live and experiencing as ‘normal’ a life as possible.
Today, I want to tackle one of the most fundamental things to consider; clothing, and how retailers can help their clients choose the right clothes.
Lots of us work with clients with dementia and for those people, daily living is far more challenging than for most of us. This is why it’s vital for us to consider clothing in light of the kinds of issues they may face on a daily basis:
- Toilet access
- Removal of underwear and socks
- Ability to pull on trousers, do up shirt buttons or pull up zips
- Sore feet
- Lack of co-ordination
It’s against this backdrop that we must help clients make the right choices when it comes to clothes.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the key pointers for anyone helping people with physical disabilities, dementia or other ailments that make the right choice of clothing extremely important.
Shirts and tops
Fiddly buttons or arms through sleeves just don’t work, so consider adapted clothes that can help with this.
Velcro, poppers and magnetic fastenings are potential solutions which allow a shirt or blouse to be opened and closed quickly and with ease. Shirts opened through the back are also useful, as well as shirts with wider sleeve openings.
Whilst skirts are a relatively easy item to put on, an elasticated waist will make it comfier to wear and skirts with long side-zips can also make dressing easier.
I can’t overestimate the importance of the right shoe – it’s essential. Some shoes are designed to be orthopaedic, which basically means that they’ll provide a lot more support than many standard shoes, particularly around the arch of the foot.
Many comfier fitting shoes feature thick soles with no or very low heel, soft upper material and Velcro fastenings so they’re easy to do up.
It’s important that shoes fit well as balance and co-ordination can become compromised for someone with dementia, so sturdy, balanced and well-fitted shoes can help to offset that.
Bras can be extremely fiddly to put on and do up; especially those that fasten round the back. I recommend non-wired, front-fastening bras, as it’s much easier to see what you’re doing and the lack of wiring makes them more comfortable.
Socks and sock aids
Circulation tends to get worse as you get older and even though thermal socks keep a person warm, they can pose a challenge to put on and take off.
A sock aid may assist your client if they have difficulty bending forward to put their socks on and if a client requires compression stockings, they will definitely need specific aids or the socks will not go on properly.
For men, front opening or ‘drop front’ trousers let you open up the trousers at the front, without having to pull them down, which provides easy access when using the toilet.
Open-back trousers are useful for people who are wheelchair bound or need to sit down to put trousers on.
Dresses that are wrap fastened or open to the waist will be easier to do up or step into, as there’s no twisting to fasten the dress at the back. Back opening dresses are easy for continence care.
Dignity is paramount, even more so when reliant on a carer, so adapted underwear can help.
Side opening underpants and knickers make them much easier to remove when using the toilet and also make them easier to change if the person being cared for has an accident.
Swimming is a fantastic activity for older people because it is a non-weight bearing exercise, putting minimal strain on joints and muscles.
You can get both ladies swimming costumes and men’s swimming shorts with built-in incontinence designs to allow for both liquid and faecal incontinence.
Belts and ties
Anti-buckle belts look just like a regular belt, but rather than having to thread it through the buckle to fix it, you simply wrap it round your waist and it is fixed in place with carefully hidden Velcro fastenings.
Likewise, if fastening a tie is starting to prove tricky you might want to consider a clip-on tie to solve this problem.
“Occupation” as a term refers to practical and purposeful activities that allow people to live independently and have a sense of identity. This could be essential day-to-day tasks such as self-care, work or leisure.” Royal College of Occupational Therapists
Top tips for dressing clients
Dressing time can be a useful chance to have a chat with your client, particularly if they’re feeling awkward. You can talk to them about the weather, or even about an item of clothing that might remind them of something they wore when they were younger.
When helping someone with dementia to dress, lay out clothes in the order the person will put them on. Remind them sensitively which garment comes next, or hand them the next item that they need.
Stuart Barrow of Promoting Independence is a member of the British Association of Occupational Therapists panel and a recognised contributor in the field of home adaptations. His experience is sought by manufacturers and service providers looking for an expert opinion. He also runs the Occupational Therapy Adaptations Conference
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