Ever heard of adaptive clothing? Are you picturing a hospital gown or clinical wear? Yes, that’s the origin of adaptive clothing, but it’s come a long way in the last few years. The clothing industry is changing fast, and although everything is easier and cheaper now that we’ve moved into mass-producing almost everything, we’re now starting to realize that by producing clothes that are aimed at the ‘norm’ we end up bypassing huge sections of the population.
As Stephanie Thomas points out in her TEDx talk, there are 1.3 billion people with disabilities worldwide and 650 million seniors. That’s a lot of people who may well not be served by this type of industry. ‘Standard’ clothes really might not be the best fit for everyone. But what’s the solution?
Well, quite a few little changes could be made that make getting dressed effortless. Firstly, we need to get rid of fastenings that make our lives harder than they need to be. Fiddly buttons? Tiny zippers? So many clothes that we have to pull over our heads. What if we made all these clothes easier for people who don’t have the range of movement necessary to maneuver in and out of them every day?
Those little changes, slowly but surely, are being taken into the main-stream so that people who need them can have easy access to them. Adaptive clothing might even offer solutions to problems you thought were unsolvable, making everyday living more straightforward! Read on to find out more about adaptive clothing for seniors specifically, and what features you should look for to help with specific movement restrictions.
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Adaptive clothing for seniors
“In my husband’s case, he was always taken aback by the amount of energy and time it took him to get ready because the Parkinson’s disease had affected his dexterity and range of motion. I remember vividly when he said to me that he had to start off each day with an obstacle and that can set the tone for the whole day.”
– Maura Horton of MagnaReady
As our population ages, more and more seniors are faced with limited mobility. As our bodies age, not only might joints get less flexible, but we are also more likely to get aging-associated diseases that limit our mobility. A common misconception is that adaptive clothing is only for wheelchair users or people that suffer from severe disabilities, but in actual fact, it could mean that seniors who need help getting dressed simply because they have trouble doing up fiddly buttons, laces or zippers can remain independent for that much longer. It means they can easily dress and undress themselves.
But not just that. Adaptive clothing being taken into the mainstream means that it is no longer ‘clinical’ – now adaptive clothing often looks just like ‘normal clothes’. It means that not only can people dress themselves, but they can dress themselves however they like.
“Society creates disability via inaccessibility and stereotypical attitudes.”
– Yanina Urusova of Bezgraniz Couture
Adaptive clothing is helping to provide accessibility to ‘normal clothes’ and break those stereotypes.
Are the clothes we wear that important?
Did you know that the clothes you wear actually have a systematic influence on the wearer’s psychological processes? It’s called ‘enclothed cognition’.
The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology carried out a study that showed that people performed better in tests when wearing a lab coat they were told was a doctor’s coat. While wearing the same coat, but being told it was an artist’s coat, they did not perform better, which shows that the value we attribute to clothes really makes them have an effect on us.
Think about ‘dressing for the job’, and how that does, in actual fact, influence how well we do that job! And now think of the effect it could have every single day. How much someone who needs adaptive clothing but does not have access to it is limited by what they can and cannot wear. And how they’ll feel when they’re given back that independence, that choice and the freedom to be able to dress themselves easily and comfortably.
“The confidence that comes from the feeling of being well-dressed is immeasurable.”
– Maura Horton of MagnaReady
What do we mean by adaptive clothing?
We mean clothing that can be put on easily by someone who has restricted movement. Some basic features of adaptive clothing are:
- elasticated waistbands
- large fittings like big buttons and chunky belts
- Loose fitting, stretchy clothing without fastenings,
- Something that can be slipped on and simply fastened from the front, back or side making it easier to dress if you are seated, lying down or unable to easily lift or twist arms and legs.
But there’s a lot more to it than that. In the next sections we’ll go into detail about the specific features adaptive clothing should have for different mobility needs. Keep reading to find out more!
One important factor to consider when it comes to fastenings, is that rivets and zippers on the backs of pants could be a potentially huge source of discomfort and could even be dangerous to people who spend a large portion of their day sitting down. Pressure sores caused by these rivets can take months to heal and even be life-threatening under certain circumstances. Trousers specifically designed for wheelchair users are designed with no back pockets or fastenings to increase comfort for users. Even if you’re not in a wheelchair, but spend a lot of time sitting down, this should be a consideration when choosing clothes.
Like we said above, no fastenings are great, it means no fiddly small parts, and nothing digging into you. But they’re only good if you can pull the clothes over your head or feet. That requires some flexibility in your arms and shoulders. If you don’t have that flexibility, getting in and out of your clothes could immediately become a lot more difficult.
So, what’s the solution?
Hidden, washable, magnets in clothes are the perfect solution if hand (and shoulder) dexterity is a problem. Whether your dexterity has come about because of Parkinson’s, Arthritis, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy or a Stroke, magnetic fastenings offer an easy solution to wearing button-down shirts. Discrete magnets are hidden in the seam of the shirt hold it together, meaning that you can’t tell that it isn’t a ‘standard’ shirt, but that it’s done up or undone in a matter of seconds.
Open back or petal back clothing
Designed to Care recommends that Open Back Clothing is best suited to someone who has help getting dressed. It is usually slipped up the arms of the wearer, then done up with strategically placed zips, snaps or Velcro at the back. Unlike traditional ‘front opening’ clothes, they allow you to simply ‘walk into the clothes’. That means the clothes can be put on without the wearer having to stand or sit up, making it that much easier to dress them. They also don’t have to twist their arms up over their head, which in some cases can be extremely difficult to do.
Open back clothing is particularly useful for those living with limited mobility due to frailty, a physical or mental disability or a specific condition such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease or Stroke.
Open back clothing slips up the arms and then over the head. That there are absolutely no fastenings, so no pressure points and no hard bits in the fabric. The fabric folds over itself on the person’s back, maintaining complete dignity for the wearer. If your skin is particularly sensitive, or you can’t reach to do up fastenings behind your back, open back clothing could make getting dressed that much easier.
In terms of the fabrics that adaptive clothing should be made from, it really depends on the mobility of the wearer, and the circumstances they find themselves in. In many cases, adaptive clothing is made to be wrinkle-resistant and durable, so that it can be washed as easily as possible.
However, warmth, softness and breathability are also essential in providing maximum comfort. Clothes made from fabrics that won’t irritate the skin make them that much more comfortable for the wearer. Soft jersey fabrics are stretchy and soft, so provide wearers with that extra level of comfort.
Shoes are a very important part of adaptive clothing, as if they don’t fit well, or offer enough support, they could lead to falls. This is the case both inside and outside the home, so when choosing footwear, the wearer should consider choosing shoes with:
- Low heels
- Foam lining
- Arch support
- Slip-resistant soles
- Side wall construction
The stability your shoes provide is very important, but to be considered ‘adaptive’, they also have to be easy to put on. That means they need to be done up easily, even by those with limited dexterity or arthritic fingers.
Easy options for shoe fastenings are:
- Easy-touch Velcro closures – fasten with a simple touch and are often adjustable
- Elasticated laces – are tied into the shoes permanently, meaning they don’t need to be done up or undone, but allowing the flexibility of stretching so that the shoes can be slipped on
In both of these cases, the shoes are easy to put on and take off and if the wearer can bend down to reach them, can be put on even by those with very limited dexterity.
Another way to make your legs and feet more comfortable is to wear the right type of socks. Depending on your specific needs, this may be compression or non-binding socks. What these two types of socks have in common is that they don’t have elastic at the top, so don’t put pressure on that specific part of your leg. They do, however, have different uses:
Compression socks apply even pressure to the leg to stimulate circulation. They are advised for people who stand or sit for long periods of time, for people going on long plane journeys and for people with varicose veins.
People with oedema could find that compression socks take the swelling in their legs down, but equally they could find non-binding socks more comfortable.
Non-binding socks are socks don’t squeeze your leg at all. They are kept in place by the specific material used to manufacture them, and help your circulation by reducing constriction and allowing your blood to flow normally. They are particularly useful for people with diabetes or circulatory problems and people with wide or swollen feet.
Adaptive clothing for specific diseases
Although adaptive clothing has some general characteristics, if you or a loved one suffers from a specific condition, it’s worth finding out how adaptive clothing can be helpful in your specific situation. While some adaptations may help some people, they could potentially make getting dressed even more difficult if the wearer has specific limitations. We’ve laid out some tips for some specific diseases below:
Parkinson’s disease can make even the simplest of everyday tasks very difficult. The difficulty in getting dressed caused by tremors, slowed movement and loss of balance are what led Maura Horton of Adaptive Clothing brand MagnaReady to start producing adaptive clothing for her husband and others who suffer from the disease because:
“Getting dressed shouldn’t be stressful, living with a disability is hard enough”
–Maura Horton of MagnaReady
Here are some handy tips to help you find adaptive clothing suitable for people with Parkinson’s. They’ll need:
- Clothes that can be pulled over the head or feet. They make dressing easier, as their hand tremors might make any fastenings difficult to do up.
- To sit down to get dressed, as this may help them maintain their balance and avoid falls.
- Protective clothing to avoid food spills at meal times due to hand tremors. A bib or protective layer could protect clothes and save them from embarrassment.
People with Parkinson’s also often have difficulty turning in bed which can interrupt their sleep pattern and cause a lot of discomfort. To help with this problem, they could try satin/low friction sheets and pajamas, which allow you to move easily in bed and might even solve the problem!
Arthritis leads to a loss of fine motor skills, which means fiddly fastenings make life very difficult. It also limits joint movement, so arthritis sufferers should try to avoid clothing that pulls over the head, as they may well have quite a bit of difficulty getting in and out of it. For arthritis sufferers, open back clothing and clothing with elasticated waistbands is ideal, as neither have any fastenings they might struggle with, and they can be put on and taken off easily, without having to bend and twist arms and legs.
Alzheimer’s disease is not commonly linked to reduced mobility, but when it comes to clothes, there is a fairly common symptom that can be combatted through adaptive clothing. Alzheimer’s sufferers often disrobe at inappropriate times, as their loss of inhibitions can cause them to forget the difference between public and private behaviour. This can be combatted through open back clothing with fastenings they cannot reach, making it very difficult for them to disrobe in public and easier to maintain their dignity. The only down side of open back clothing is that they’ll need some help to dress and undress.
Oedema, which manifests as swelling, can cause a lot of discomfort, especially when constricted by tight clothes. If you or a loved one has oedema, loose-fitting clothes, non-binding socks and wide shoes could make a lot of difference. However, as oedema causes swelling, they could find that compression socks work better for them personally, as in some circumstances compression socks help to reduce swelling.
Depending on whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, your clothing needs could be different. A company specifically geared towards producing adaptive clothing for people with type 1 diabetes (t1clothing) was founded in the UK, “to allow for easy pump-wearing or injections, without the hassle of having to fiddle or fuss with your clothes”. Although this clothing range is geared towards people with type 1 diabetes (and is largely aimed at younger women), people with type 2 diabetes who need to inject could also find the range is what they’re looking for.
However, as well as injecting, there are other specific concerns when it comes to type 2 diabetes. The circulatory concerns and nerve damage caused by diabetes lead to other specific clothing choices having to be made. Often nerve damage done to feet and legs means that you have decreased sensation in those body parts – which means that it could be dangerous to restrict blood flow to them by wearing tight clothing. Non-binding socks and wide, loose shoes could help to decrease pressure on feet and ankles and therefore keep them more comfortable.
The clothing industry is starting to recognize that comfort, freedom of expression and choice is essential. Getting dressed doesn’t have to be a chore, and you don’t have to injure yourself just to wear the clothes you feel comfortable in. Adaptive clothing could be the solution you didn’t know you needed!