An adult man stands facing front in front of a blue arc with a sweatshirt around his back and on his forearms as another adult man starts to pull his sweatshirt up over one elbow helping him to dress

Dressing Strategies for Alzheimer's, Part 2: Above the Belt

I've found that shirts can be a struggle, but some shirts make life easier. There are tricks to guiding heavy arms rather than pushing and twisting and battling.

Over the head

Let's start from the top-down, with shirts that go over the head.

Sometimes having something covering your loved one's eyes and nose and mouth, results in a violating feeling - suffocating even. Especially a hooded sweatshirt. Not to mention the hard tug to pull the shirt down over the face into place.

More often than not, my husband fights to take it off as soon as it is in the correct position. It may sound simplistic, but scrunching up the shirt into a ring, making eye contact, and telling Peter what I'm about to do, are very helpful. It's a quick swish and the shirt is under his chin.

A soothing kiss and an empathetic voice can be beneficial here, as well.

The arms

Somedays, the arms are no problem and my husband remembers how to maneuver the fabric by finding the armhole and pushing through it. Other times, his arms are like weights and he stiffens them and fights the process. On the more difficult days, putting my hand through the sleeve backward, from the wrist to the shoulder helps. I can then guide his hand to meet mine, and holding hands, pull his arm up and out through the sleeve.

Different shirts

Ultimately, with disease progression, over the head shirts may need to be completely replaced. Alternatively, I have found shirts with button fronts or zippers are easier to put on. They also double as fidgets! Learning the hard way, I struggled to try to conform Peter's arms in ways he was not willing to bend. Understandably.

Realizing an easy solution, dressing got immediately simpler. What I was doing was putting one arm in the shirt and pulling the sleeve over that arm's shoulder. Then I'd advance on the next sleeve but contorting Peter's arm was impossible.

The simple trick is to not pull the first sleeve up to the shoulder. Leaving the shirt draped across the mid-back gives you more fabric to work with. Your loved one can more easily slip their arm in the hole. You can then pull the shirt up on both shoulders at once resulting in a smoother transition!


Layering can be tricky and takes patience. Additionally, sleeves tend to ride up to the elbow causing discomfort. The same technique can be used here as mentioned above.

For instance, let's say you're putting a zippered sweatshirt over a flannel shirt. Feed your hand through the sleeve of the sweatshirt, entering at the wrist. Allow the sweatshirt to fall freely on your arm as you take your loved one's wrist. Snagging the cuff of the flannel shirt, guide the sweatshirt from your arm, up the flannel sleeve to the elbow. Only to the elbow.

Lastly, repeat on the other side, first draping the sweatshirt across the midback. Finally, pull up the second layer onto both shoulders and zip the front.

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