I have always said that keeping your loved one in a simple routine is number one in caring for people living with dementia. (The reason for this is because of short-term memory loss.) This applies to a wardrobe as well. Please keep it simple, as in loose fitting and easy to put on and take off, especially in the latter stage of the disease. Also, be sure to limit clothing choices. Otherwise, he or she may become overwhelmed and easily confused. There will be times when you may wonder why your loved one wants to wear the same shirt every day; well, there might not be a “yesterday” belonging to his or her memory at that moment.
Simplicity. Let’s start from the bottom-up. I had my dad wearing Velcro-strap shoes. There was no reason to have him struggling to remember how to tie his shoes first thing in the morning, starting his day in a frustrating state. The one thing I couldn’t get him to wear the last two years of his life were socks. I believe the cause of this was that he didn’t want to wear anything, anywhere, even close to being tight! (Good thing we were in Florida!) Because of all this, I replaced his shoes reasonably often so we could all breathe fresher surrounding air; I accomplished this task by exchanging identical shoes during the middle of the night. He never knew the difference.
Dad also liked to lay his pants across the foot of his bed at night. I’d switch them out, too, while he slept, replacing both the belt and wallet and making sure everything else went back into the right pockets.
Shirts—loose-fitting and comfortable first. You might want to try more oversized buttons or pullovers, making these garments less complicated. Dad had a favorite, loose flannel jacket he wore throughout all four seasons. It always amazed me how he could wear that jacket throughout the heat of our Floridian summers. It had been washed so often that it had developed a velour softness and became almost a security blanket for him. For a man who wore suitcoats and ties all his life, he was a surprising sight—settled into such laid-back, lumberjack attire.
Go with the flow. Pay attention to what your beloved patients seem to prefer. It’s vital for them to have a smooth start every morning, which could determine their level of confusion for the rest of the day or days to come. Once again, the “simple routine mindset” can start with the simplicity of a closet and wardrobe.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc, CDCS
Dementia Spotlight Foundation