10 Things You Can Do To Help an Older Adult Get Dressed

As we age, simple things like pulling a shirt over our heads can become difficult. This article is full of advice to help and older adult get dressed.
help an elderly person get dressed

Dressing is a very private and personal activity. When people begin to struggle with it, they frequently feel frustrated and embarrassed, and they are hesitant to accept help. Who wants to get dressed in front of other people or be dressed by someone else? Struggles with caregivers such as yourself are not uncommon.

Dressing is a surprisingly difficult task! Many decisions and steps are involved, including deciding what to wear, remembering the order in which to dress, selecting specific pieces of clothing, and coordinating limb movements with the clothing.

As people age, their strength and grip weaken, making it difficult to get dressed. This is usually due to a lack of flexibility in the arms and legs, as well as a lack of gripping ability in the hands. Not to mention the ability to focus long enough to complete all of these steps.

Helping an Older Adult Get Dressed

how to help an older adult get dressed

As part of your daily eldercare duties, you or a family caregiver can assist an elderly relative in getting dressed. The following are some pointers to help your aging loved one put on their clothes or get undressed with as little confusion, frustration and fuss as possible.

1. Make Dressing a Pleasurable Experience

Helping a person look the way they want to look is an essential part of boosting their self-esteem. Compliment the person on their appearance regularly and encourage them to take pride in their appearance.

2. Examine the Fit of Their Clothing

The fit of their clothes on their bodies could indicate a change in their health. Are their clothes any longer baggy? Maybe they’ve lost weight? Have they gained a significant amount of weight? Simply noticing how their clothes fit may indicate the need for a doctor’s examination.

3. Explain the Next Step

While assisting an older adult in getting dressed, go over each step with them. Don’t just pull a shirt over their heads. Make sure to give them a heads-up. Tell them you’re going to put the shirt over their head as you’re putting it on.

Hold each armhole steady and instruct them to insert their arm into the sleeve. Repeat the procedure with the next sleeve. Stop for a minute if they begin to fuss. If they are becoming frustrated and uncomfortable, don’t force them to continue.

4. Be Mindful of Their Mental Health or Medical Situation

An older adult with dementia, for example, may become combative or difficult if you come over unexpectedly and try to help them dress.

Ease yourself into assisting them. Approach them slowly and with courtesy. Make them feel as if, even if they don’t think they need your assistance, you can make their life a little easier.

5. Encourage the Wearing of Loose-fitting Clothing With a Wide Neckline

help elderly people get dressed with comfortable clothing

Select shirts with a wide neckline. A turtleneck’s narrow hole can be uncomfortable as it slips over the head. An elderly adult will find it easier to wear a cowl neckline. V-necks are also easier to put on and take off.

Examine clothing with shoulder slits and Velcro closures. Once the shirt is pulled over the patient’s head, secure the Velcro strip to close the slit and keep the patient warm.

6. Offer a Few Simple Options

Make this daily ritual simple, especially for an older adult who may be a little slower or confused by having to choose an outfit.

Provide no more than two or three simple options that reflect their needs for the day, as well as the weather and climate. For example, ask if they’d like to wear a red shirt or a blue one.

The key is to keep things simple: loose-fitting shirts, easy pullovers, comfy shoes, soft pants or jeans.

7. Buttons and Zippers Are a No-No

don't use buttons or zippers for elderly people

Clothing with buttons and zippers should be avoided. Zippers are slightly better, but if the zipper gets stuck, it becomes inconvenient. Buttons take time to make and must be properly aligned. Furthermore, an emergency bathroom trip can result in an accident with too many buttons to undo.

Instead, look for items with Velcro or ties. Pullovers are even more comfortable. Pull-on pants, such as yoga pants, are more convenient to wear than jeans. Cardigans with ties are preferable to hooded sweatshirts.

8. Do Not Compel Them to Wear What You Want Them to Wear

Obviously, a thick sweater is not a good option during a heatwave. It is, however, their choice to make.

Allow them to wear whatever they want, even if you think their outfit is strange. Is it really that important that they adore that gaudy coat they bought in 1984? Let them wear it if they like it.

9. Prepare Clothing the Night Before

Lay out all of their clothes the night before. It saves time and ensures that an older adult has everything they require. You don’t want them to be wet from a shower and discover they don’t have any clean underwear if it’s been a busy week!

10. Check for Medical Issues While Dressing or Undressing

When they are not clothed – or are only partially clothed – take a quick look at their body to check for physical changes.

Is there a bruise you haven’t noticed before? Is there some kind of rash? Is a wound getting worse? Is it necessary to change a dressing?

Is their skin red or irritated in any way? This would be a good time to check. Particular attention should be paid to their legs, arms, feet and buttocks.

Grooming in Other Areas

help older adults with grooming

When the person is dressed, they may request that you assist them with their hair. A female may prefer to wear jewelry, perfume, or make-up, and this is another way for her to express herself through her public appearance. For example, you could have her nails painted for her if she enjoys it. A man may prefer to use hair products or aftershave, or he may prefer to wear cufflinks or braces.

It is critical to learn about what an older adult likes and to avoid making assumptions about how they would like to appear. Photographs are an excellent way to recall how a person prefers to wear their make-up, accessories, or hair.

The individual may be accustomed to visiting a beauty salon or a hairdresser and wish to continue doing so. Some people would rather have a hairdresser come to their home.

Keeping Safe While Dressing

To reduce the risk of balance loss or falls, have your loved one sit down while dressing.

When assisting them in getting dressed, make sure you are in the best possible position to reduce back strain. You can, for example, put on their shoes, socks, or pants while they are still lying down.

Helpful Tools for Dressing An Older Adult

tools to help elderly get dressed

When arthritis, a recent operation, or a stroke reduces finger strength and dexterity, buttoning or zipping can be difficult. However, this does not imply that your loved one can no longer live independently. With the help of a few great gadgets designed specifically for their dressing needs, they can now maintain their dignity. In fact, there are even a number of attractive pieces of adaptive clothing that can help your loved one as well.

Dressing aids are an invaluable help for people who need a little additional help putting on their clothes or for assistants for the elderly who are tasked with fully dressing a patient in bed.

  • A shoehorn is intended to help with putting on and taking off shoes by reducing the need to bend down. It is typically made of strong plastic and has a long handle for easier access to the shoes. Here are a number of long shoehorn options from Amazon that might be perfect.

  • A stocking/sock aid helps users with their morning routine by eliminating the need to bend down and pull socks up. It is lightweight and simple to use, with side slots and a top lid to securely hold hosiery when putting it on. A sock remover, on the other hand, is a long-handled innovative device that makes it easier to take off socks and stockings without strain. Here are some options.

  • A button hook is intended to assist those with gripping or dexterity issues. It makes fastening buttons much easier for those suffering from conditions such as arthritis. A zipper grip/ring makes it easier to grip and pull zips and can easily slot onto most zips, creating an instant larger handle for easier operation.

  • A dressing stick is a useful mobility aid that provides an extended reach to pull on sleeves and pant legs because the stick has a hooked head that helps position and move clothes.

These are some of the tools that make it much easier for those who value dignity, comfort, and respect to live in a more comfortable environment. These dressing aids can be custom-sized for the user and are relatively inexpensive.


When you use some of these tips, assisting your aging loved one with basic daily tasks like dressing does not have to be a chore. Older adults, in general, want to look their best and not have to spend too much time getting ready in the morning. Using the right clothes, assistive devices, and a home care provider can help elderly adults dress faster and confidently get on with their day.

Have another question? Ask an expert.

Our team is here for you. If you have a question about caring for an older adult or other member of your family—be it physical, legal, medical, financial, or anything in between—we’ll have one of our Trusted Advisors get back to you ASAP.

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