Our clothes are important: they help to define who we are. Even when we have no style, that’s our style. So when dementia starts making it difficult to dress yourself, and eventually you have to rely on somebody else to select your clothes and put them on, no wonder it makes you mad. You’re losing your independence, your freedom to express yourself.
In this story, first published in 2015, I describe some of the difficulties we faced when clothes started to become a problem for Lena. In a separate Carers Tips newsletter, I’ll explain some of the ways I tried to minimise Lena’s frustration – and make things easier for myself …
Lena’s grumbling to herself in the bedroom.
– What’s wrong with these things? … Why? … Grr!
She knows I’m just down the hallway, on the computer. She’s telling me she needs help. Better go.
– You OK?
– No, look at these things. I don’t know what’s wrong with them. Look.
She’s sitting on the edge of the bed. It’s a jeans problem.
– Well, I think you’ve got them on inside out. Look, this seam here goes on the inside.
– No this is the way they always are. I know how to put on trousers.
– Let’s give it a try anyway, shall we? Here, shall I pull a leg?
It’s the third time this morning she’s changed clothes. Boredom. Time for a change of scene, a walk maybe. She stands up, shakes the trousers down to her ankles, then hoists them up again and begins to button up.
– No, they’re still inside out. You need to take them right off first.
– Yes, of course. I knew that. That’s just what I was going to do. Do you think I don’t know how to get dressed?
The problem is, over the past couple of months, she really doesn’t — although I can’t tell her that. It might be another little victory for Alzheimers, but it’s my job to keep the morale up.
Yesterday, I was talking to Lesley, who we met on a research programme to test the effects of regular easy exercise on people with dementia. She was asking whether we’d be interested in joining in a dementia champions meeting next week — the group is trying to arrange special swimming sessions for people with dementia and their partners at the local pool.
So why would people with dementia need special treatment to go swimming? Well, here’s one reason — and it’s changing rooms again.
There’s a pool at the leisure centre where Lena and I are members. When we’re just using the gym there’s no problem. When we walk down there, we’re both already wearing our kit, so all we have to do is to slip out of our outdoor clothes and put them in the locker. We don’t need the changing rooms.
But it was different when we wanted to swim a few months back. I headed off to the Men’s changing-room, got myself ready and waited for Lena outside the Ladies’. After a few minutes she emerged, fully dressed, carrying her bag.
– Oh. Aren’t you going to change?
– What do you mean?
– To get ready for swimming.
– Oh yes. OK.
A few minutes pass. Lena comes out again, still fully dressed. Looks at me in my trunks and towel … and realises.
– I don’t like it in there. There are too many people.
– Shall we give swimming a miss today?
– Maybe. Yes.
We’ve given swimming a miss every day since then.
FOLLOW UP READING –
Our related Carer Tips newsletter, where I describe how I tried to minimise Lena’s frustrations with clothes and getting dressed – and to make things easier for myself.
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