Activities of daily living (ADLs) are fundamental skills that are necessary for independent self-care, such as eating, walking, using the toilet, dressing, bathing/ showering, and mobility (Edemekong, 2022). ADLs are used to indicate an individual’s functional status and are used to determine qualifications for medical care, therapy, nursing care, and insurance eligibility. When loved ones need assistance with ADLs, this may require family caregivers to learn how to appropriately support and provide care in a manner that allows their loved one to maintain some independence living at home. This document will address the ADL of dressing and includes recognizing signs your care recipient needs support, how to maintain dignity, and some tips/tools to support your caregiving responsibilities.

Signs That Your Care Recipient May Need Support with Dressing

Maintaining Care Recipient Dignity

Taking longer to get dressed can cause frustration for both the caregiver and the care recipient.It is important to recognize that many ADLs are activities that the care recipient has been able to perform for years without requiring any type of help. Accepting help may especially be difficult in our community where many may not want to be a burden to their adult children, spouses, and/or loved ones and wish to do things by themselves without being reliant on support. Additionally, dressing and some other ADLs can be perceived as private and personal activities and can lead to embarrassment or feeling hazukashii, and may cause further resistance in accepting assistance. Factors such as the relation to the care recipient, gender, and age can further exacerbate this sentiment. These are important factors to keep in mind when offering help.
When communicating, instead of assuming that they will need assistance, express your wish to help but also maintain their dignity by showing respect and empathy, and meeting them where they are at.

Tips on Ways to Assist with Dressing

In order to maintain as much independence as possible for care recipients, keep in mind the following if they may need assistance:

  • Giving extra time to dress – Plan for extra time if they can still dress themselves, rather than immediately assuming that they cannot do it by themselves. 
  • Provide choices – Having a sense of choice allows care recipients to feel they can still keep their autonomy.
  • Know their preferences – If the situation requires the care recipient to choose clothing from a limited set of choices, it may be helpful to know preferred styles (color, shape, pattern) so that even if the choices are limited, they will choose something from the given options.
  • Explain – Communicating what you are doing while assisting with dressing and in general can help the care recipient understand what is going on.
  • Lay out clothes/Order the clothes – Laying out clothes and putting the clothes in an order can streamline the process to dress your care recipient.
  • Simplify and duplicate – If having too many choices confuses the recipient, simplify choices for wardrobe by having duplicates of existing clothing that your care recipient likes.

Creative Tools to Help with Dressing

If the care recipient needs further assistance in dressing, there are other tools to maintain independence. Finding the right tools can help mitigate challenges in dressing your care recipient and navigate the process together with more ease.

  • Adaptive Clothing is specifically designed for individuals with physical disabilities, mobility issues, cognitive challenges, and sensory sensitivities while still looking like normal clothing (Koop, 2022). Adaptive clothing can make dressing easier, more efficient to use, and can be more convenient by saving time. Examples include:
    • Velcro, magnetic buttons, side zippers, or seamless items to reduce pressure on the body (Press, 2018)
    • Snap-on buttons, slip-on shoes, or belts that can be put on with one hand
    • Some clothing allows comfortable catheter access or is good for hospital visits
    • Wide-width shoes and socks
    • Dignity or antistrip suits, which are primarily used for those with Alzheimer’s dementia to prevent inappropriate undressing
  • Assistive technology (AT) tools for dressing are for both caregivers and care recipients to make the dressing process an easier experience. They are products that improve or maintain independence and safety and can help to perform ADLs. Examples of devices include (Citation):
    • Long handle teacher
    • Extra-long shoe horn
    • Flexible sock aid
    • Elastic (no tie) shoe laces
    • Button hook aid and zipper pull
  • For Additional Assistance – It can be challenging to learn the proper mechanics of assisting with dressing. If this is something that you do not feel comfortable doing yourself, there are professional in-home care caregivers that can help with ADLs and techniques to dress your care recipient. It may be helpful to consult with occupational therapists (OTs) or physical therapists (PTs) before performing mechanisms that may involve positioning or transferring your care recipient.

Resistance to Dressing

When introducing new adaptive clothing to your care recipient for the first time, they may think Velcro (especially on shoes) is for children, prefer zippers/buttons on pants instead of elastic, or may think that shoes that look (and are) orthopedic look “funny” compared to the shoes they are used to.

Making sure that you understand their preferences and where their resistance is coming from can help with communicating about these changes. Addressing these concerns, and communicating with them when navigating dressing together, all while maintaining care recipient dignity can make dressing a smoother process.

Communicating with relatability and humor at the appropriate times can lighten the mood for both the caregiver and recipient, improve the mental stimulation of your care recipient, and ease tension.


With knowledge, the right tools, and techniques that meet both your needs and those of your care recipient, the dressing process can be a more efficient, safer, and easier process. Considering that your care recipient’s sensory perception may change as they age, try to offer assistance tactfully and sensibly by meeting them where they are at with empathy and enabling them to make their own choices for as long as they can.


Edemekong, P.F., Bomgaars, D.L., Sukumaran, S., et al. Activities of Daily Living. [Updated May 2, 2022]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Retrieved from

Koop, C. (2022). The Best Adaptive Clothing for Seniors. Retrieved from

Press, J. (2018). Adaptive Clothing Takes Stress out of Dressing. Retrieved from

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