Dressing Mom

Dressing With Alzheimer's

by Joan Blumenfeld, MS, LPC

Mom always dressed with style.  She wore well-tailored suits and dresses from her favorite Madison Avenue shop.  Occasionally she flaunted a colorful bargain plucked off the racks at Loehmann’s.  Mom was also partial to largish earrings and interesting ethnic necklaces that she and my stepfather, Mark, found in their far-flung travels.  Her rings held bold semi-precious stones: onyx, turquoise, agate.  She had a charming flair for combining simple elegance with a touch of New York bohemia.

So, given her usual tidy appearance, I was quite alarmed when Mom started showing up in blouses dotted with coffee stains, skirts with unraveling hems and shabby sweaters.

Mark was reporting to me with great distress that Mom was dressing bizarrely, sometimes wearing her nightgown over her street clothes.  And he found it very frustrating that she could never seem to be dressed on time for appointments.

It turned out that these difficulties with dressing were, in fact, symptoms of dementia and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before Mom was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Mother’s ability to dress herself declined as the disease progressed, and we had to adjust her wardrobe.  I remember when I had to buy her first velour pants suit.  It was easier to get on and off than her Madison Avenue clothes.  Even though it was a lovely plum-colored suit, I was saddened because I knew it was something Mom would never have selected for herself when she was well.

Later, when Mom lived in the nursing home, I ordered a brightly colored fleece throw from buckandbuck.com (a store that specializes in clothing that makes dressing easier for people being cared for at home or in an assisted facility) which she needed so her legs could be modestly covered when she reclined in her Geri chair.  Both incidents remain stark reminders for me of Mother’s decline.  For the rest of Mom’s life, I kept after her caregivers to be sure she was dressed as nicely as possible.  That was her style.

Here are some strategies that made dressing Mom a little easier:

  • Limit clothing choices.  Select and lay out clothes ahead of time.
  • Buy clothes that are easy to get on and off, like cardigans instead of pullovers.
  • Allow plenty of time for dressing.  Never rush a person with Alzheimer’s.
  • Pick clothes that can withstand the daily industrial-strength laundering provided in nursing homes.

Pearl of wisdom:  Dressing appropriately and attractively helps maintain a sense of dignity for the aging and impaired.  For more ideas about dignified personal care, visit www.alz.org.

Joan Blumenfeld is a Geriatric Care Manager based in Fairfield County,  Connecticut. For more information see her web site at joanblumenfeld.com. © Joan Blumenfeld 2011.

7 Responses to “Dressing Mom”

  1. davi schaffner says:

    My dearly departed wife was the most gorgeous lady I had ever see.I remember the first time our eyes met,,,,I remember the moment we captured each others heart………My wife loved clothes with a passion unlike anyone I had ever known.She loved fashionable dresses & gowns & loved dressing for an ocassion.She loved elegant jewlrey,flip-flops(she had 50 pairs at one time) treasured knick-knacks & “Gone wirh the wind” mementos.She would never leave the house without make-up or lipstick.My approval was very important to her.She would in a days time have changed at least 4 times,trying on differant outfits.She was truely a lady in the highest sense……..It came on softly at first,little hints of forgetfulness,mood changes.anziety,combativness….As her disease grew we new something was terribly wrong. Diagnosis,,,dementhia…As the years went by & her condition worsened,I noticed her nightly ritual on washing her face in a special soap & applying her favorite creams,She always picked out a special gown fo me.In the year 2011,her condition worsened dramaticaly & she seemed to wear the same clothes & forgot to bathe & when her nightly ritual stopped I became alarmed.She began to have trouble walking,going to the bathroom and soon she needed constant care.When she fell in august of that horrible year,I noticed something different in her eyes.She always had a twinkle in her eyes as she gazed into mine,,,,,but now it was gone,,,replaced with a glare of hopelessness,,,,,like a long,long goodbye.She loved her family & she truely loved me with all her heart…..Sadly,she forgot all that,for that horrrible,horrible disease had taken its toll…..Soon she forgot me…My wonderful,beautiful wife,Dessa Schaffner passed away in november of 2011.”forever in my heart honey”