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    Dementia Symptoms & Caregiver Strategies: Managing Dressing and Grooming in Cognitively Impaired Adults

    Helping a person with cognitive impairment maintain his or her appearance can promote positive self-esteem. While these tasks may become frustrating for a person with cognitive challenges the tips below can help simplify the process.


    Plan plenty of time when dressing or grooming. Rushing the person can cause anxiety and frustration. Choosing and putting on clothes can be frustrating for the person with cognitive issues. The person may not remember how to dress or may be overwhelmed with the choices or the task itself.

    To assist:

    • Simplify choices.
      Keep the closets free of excess clothing. A person may panic if clothing choices become overwhelming. If appropriate, give the person an opportunity to select favorite outfits or colors, but try offering just two choices.
    • Organize the process.
      Lay out clothing in the order that each item should be put on. Hand the person one item at a time while giving simple, direct instructions such as "Put on your shirt" rather than "Get dressed".
    • Pick comfortable and simple clothing.
      Cardigans, shirts and blouses that button in front are easier to work than pullover tops. If you can, substitute Velcro for buttons, snaps or zippers, which may be too difficult to handle. Make sure that clothing is loose fitting, especially at the waist and hips, and choose fabrics that are soft and stretchable.
    • Choose comfortable shoes.
      Make sure the person has comfortable, non-slip shoes.
    • Be flexible.
      If your loved one wants to wear the same outfit repeatedly, buy duplicates or have similar options available. Keep in mind that it is important for him or her to maintain good personal hygiene, including wearing clean undergarments, as poor hygiene may lead to urinary tract or other infections that further complicate care. 

      It's all right if the person wants to wear several layers of clothing, just make sure they don't get overheated. When outdoors, make sure he or she is dressed for the weather. Try to offer praise, not criticism, if clothing is mismatched (ex: "Look at those interesting patterns")


    A person with cognitive impairment may forget how to comb hair, clip fingernails, shave or forget what the purpose is for items like nail clippers or a comb.

    To assist:

    • Maintain grooming routines.
      If your loved one has always gone to the beauty shop or a barber, continue this activity. If the experience becomes distressing, it may be possible to have the barber or hairstylist come to the person's home.
    • Use favorite toiletries.
      Allow the person to continue using their favorite toothpaste, shaving cream, cologne or makeup.
    • Perform tasks alongside the person.
      Comb your hair, and encourage your loved one to copy your motions.
    • Use safer, simpler grooming tools.
      Cardboard nail files and electric shavers can be less threatening than clippers and razors.
    Involve your loved one in maintaining his or her own appearance as much as possible. Being there to help and providing them with simple choices may make the entire process go smoother for both of you.

    Cognitive Impairment can have many causes. The patient’s doctor should be consulted to determine a specific diagnosis and treatment options. But whatever the cause, the symptoms are often alike, and the Caregiver Strategies are often similar.

    The information in the resources listed above was compiled by the Ray Dolby Brain Health Center through clinical experience and commonly available published materials. For information on additional Caregiver Strategies, go to: