Adaptive clothing includes any type of clothing that has been adapted so that it is easier to put on, close, hold in place, and wear medical equipment. This includes a large array of clothing options ranging from socks to jackets and everything in between.
Using adaptive clothing can give seniors a sense of control over their daily routine or help caretakers get them dressed in a timely fashion.
Some types of adaptive clothing look just like traditional clothes. Easy on clothes with elastic waistbands don’t look any less professional than a normal pair of slacks. Shoes with Velcro laces are easier to wear without calling attention to themselves.
What Types of Adaptive Clothing Are Available For Seniors?
Almost all traditional styles of clothing have an adaptive alternative. Several major brands have invested heavily in adaptive clothing lines. Other brands have emerged that focus entirely on adaptive clothes.
All of this variation ensures that every senior can find clothes that are comfortable and fit their style. Adaptive clothing helps the elderly maintain confidence in their appearance while also making it easier to get dressed.
Here are some of today’s most common types of adaptive clothing:
1. Velcro Clothing
The most well-known form of adaptive clothing uses Velcro instead of buttons or zippers to stay closed. Velcro officially hit the markets in 1955 and quickly became popular as the “zipper-less zipper.”
Even in the early days, savvy customers would use Velcro instead of metal zippers so that their pants were easier to open. It then became extremely popular in athletic wear, shoes, and then adaptive clothing.
It’s easy to underestimate the gripping strength of Velcro. However, Velcro is reliable enough that NASA began using it in the 60s to keep their equipment in position in zero gravity. It completely replaced snaps and zippers that were difficult to operate when wearing bulky gloves.
Seniors tend to have a similar problem when it comes to operating snaps, zippers, buttons, and laces. Many of the symptoms of aging directly affect their ability to quickly tie a knot or pull a zipper.
Poor eyesight and coordination make it difficult to first find the zipper. Poor motor functions or painful joints can make it difficult to grip the zipper or snap. They may even lack the strength necessary to dislodge the zipper.
Almost any article of clothing that relies on a zipper or buttons can be adapted to Velcro clothing. Velcro clothing is already readily available from all of the biggest clothing brands in the industry. But you aren’t restricted only to the Velcro clothing sold at stores.
Velcro sells individual kits with Velcro strips of different sizes. These Velcro strips can be stuck to clothing without any sewing skills required. If you’re a caretaker or a family member, then you can easily modify an entire wardrobe with Velcro kits.
Velcro can also be used to replace laces on some types of clothing. Velcro shoes have been popular since they were first produced by Puma in 1968. They are perfect for young kids as well as seniors who otherwise struggle with tying their shoes.
2. Magnetic Closures Clothing
If you want an alternative to Velcro that functions similarly, then consider magnetic closure clothing instead. Magnets can be useful on shirts, pants, coats, dresses, and bras. The strength of the hold will depend on the magnet that is being used.
Some clothing uses very small magnets the size of buttons to close small gaps. This is commonly seen on shirts that have magnetic openings on the shoulders.
Magnetic closure pants might not be as popular as Velcro, but they work just as well. It means that seniors won’t have to waste their morning trying to grip a small button or find the handle to the zipper.
Clothing with magnetic closures isn’t as effective as Velcro when intense physical activity is involved. Most seniors don’t engage in intense exercise, so it doesn’t become a problem. But if you’re an elderly person who likes to break a sweat, then Velcro may be the better option.
It’s also recommended that patients with a pacemaker avoid wearing shirts with magnetic closure devices. It’s believed that the magnet may be able to interfere with the pacemaker and cause complications.
3. Easy On/Off Clothing
Easy on clothing refers to any adaptive clothing that can be quickly put on or taken off. The clothes are designed to overcome specific problems that seniors might encounter when getting dressed.
They may also remove the closure device altogether to make the process even faster. Elastic waist pants are an example of easy on/off clothing that completely removes the closure device.
It’s not uncommon for the elderly to have trouble putting on a form-fitting shirt. Working their arms and head through the holes requires some fine motor skills.
Some adaptive clothing makes this process easier by using a stretchier fabric around these areas. This allows seniors to push their limbs through the opening with greater ease.
Easy to put on clothes for elderly people makes it easier for them to dress themselves – or be dressed by others.
4. Anti-Strip Clothing
Some forms of adaptive clothing are designed for patients who suffer from mental conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia. Seniors with these conditions are more likely to lose touch with reality and remove their clothes at any point during the day.
Anti-strip clothing is designed to be more difficult for a senior to remove themselves. In a sense, it is the exact opposite of easy on/off clothing.
Anti-strip clothing may be more difficult for the senior to manipulate, but it should be easy for the caretaker to work with. Designers make it easier for the caretaker by placing the closure mechanisms on the backside of the outfits.
5. Open Back Clothing
This type of adaptive clothing makes it easier for seniors to wear their medical devices or equipment. Access areas in the back of the clothing provide physical access to the equipment. They may also be useful for seniors who need shots or examinations during the day.
Some open-back clothing comes with a removable piece of fabric that can be used to cover the hole. This is helpful during the times when the open design is not needed. The fabric is often held on by an adaptive technology like Velcro.
How Can Seniors and the Elderly Benefit From Adaptive Clothing?
Adaptive clothing provides many benefits like speed, comfort, and safety. It can also have specific benefits for seniors who suffer from certain medical conditions. Here are a few examples:
Arthritis includes more than 100 types of diseases that affect the joints. The most common symptoms are pain and swelling in the joints. It also causes stiffness, tenderness, and can greatly reduce mobility.
Many seniors suffer from arthritis in the hands, which makes it nearly impossible to use a zipper, laces, or buttons. Adaptive clothing makes it so that seniors with this serious condition can still get dressed with minimal assistance.
Learn more about using adaptive clothing for arthritis patients here.
More than half of all seniors over 65 reports some instances of bladder or bowel incontinence. It can be an extremely embarrassing problem for some elderly people.
Adaptive clothing for incontinence makes it easier to open the clothes and change the adult diapers without changing the entire outfit.
See my guide to adaptive clothing for incontinence here.
Dementia & Alzheimer’s
Dementia is a serious mental disorder that is often caused by a brain disease. It can lead to memory loss, impairment, and mood swings. Alzheimer’s is a specific type of dementia that heavily affects memory and behavior.
These conditions can lead to erratic behavior like randomly de-robing. Certain types of adaptive clothing make it more difficult for seniors to remove their clothes in a period of confusion.
I have a separate guide to adaptive clothing for dementia and Alzheimer’s for more information.
Seniors who are bedridden require complete assistance when it comes to getting dressed. The caretakers receive very little help from the elderly and instead rely on adaptive clothing techniques to make the job easier.
Clothes that open from the back and have shorter sides are much easier put on and take off of a bedridden senior.
Nursing Home Residents
A resident at a nursing home may deal with any of the medical conditions or disabilities listed above. They can benefit from any or all of the adaptive clothing types depending on their unique condition.
Adaptive clothing for nursing home residents also makes it easier on the workers who help the seniors get dressed.
How Does Adaptive Clothing Help Caregivers & Healthcare Workers?
Healthcare workers and caregivers have many different tasks that they are required to handle during the day. The more time they spend helping an elderly patient get dressed, the further behind they fall on other tasks.
It can take some seniors with serious conditions close to an hour to get fully dressed. Adaptive clothing can cut that time in half and ensure that healthcare workers have adequate time for their other important tasks.
Where to Buy Adaptive Clothing for Seniors?
Most of the well-known clothing stores carry a variety of adaptive clothing. You can also search online to review a much larger selection from manufacturers around the world. Some of the biggest sources include:
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Ovidis is a specialty manufacturer of clothing for people with physical or cognitive difficulties. They offer unique and innovative designs for easy and stress-free dressing by older adults, the disabled, or their caregivers.
Zappos offers much more than adaptive shoes. They offer many adaptive clothing items as well from many of the popular adaptive clothing brands. Plus, they have an Advisory Council that reviews and selects the items they choose to sell.
Dignity Pajamas has created a nice niche in adaptive sleepwear for men and women. They offer many styles of sleep shirts, pajamas, and gowns with open backs and velcro closures.
Being one of the world’s largest retailers, Amazon offers a wide selection of adaptive clothing from many of the most popular manufacturers. Another benefit to purchasing from Amazon is their easy to navigate website and generous return policies.
Etsy is a great place to find one-of-a-kind adaptive clothing pieces that aren’t mass-marketed. Some Etsy sellers even offer custom-made items for special situations or will make special sizes for larger or smaller people.
JCPenney offers a decent selection of adaptive clothing made by standard clothing manufacturers like St. John’s Ba, a.n.a., and Worthington. Plus sizes are available too.
You can also find adaptive clothing through brands dedicated specifically to the craft. A few examples include:
Perhaps a surprising addition to the list is well-known fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger who has a line of adaptive clothing for both adults and children. His shop is a great choice for the more fashion-forward person.
This company focuses on creating stylish denim jeans that use adaptive technology like Velcro or elastic waistbands. Several of their styles are even wheelchair-friendly!
MagnaReady specializes in clothes that rely on magnetic closure devices.
See my complete list of recommended adaptive clothing brands and retailers here.
Q: Can You Make Adaptive Clothing for Seniors?
A: If you have the ability to sew, then you can make your very own adaptive clothing for seniors. Many of the design techniques they use are easy to implement. For example, you can use a Velcro patch instead of a zipper to sew your own pair of adaptive pants.
Q: How Can You Adapt Existing Clothes For The Elderly?
A: It’s much easier to adapt existing clothes than it is to make your own. You can convert any shirt or pair of pants by simply purchasing an attachable Velcro strip.
These are sold directly by the Velcro brand and come with their own adhesive. Remove the existing buttons or zippers and install the Velcro to adapt an existing article of clothing.
Q: Does Medicare or Medicaid Pay for Adaptive Clothing?
A: No. Unfortunately, neither system will provide reimbursements for adaptive clothing. If you really want to save as much money as possible, then you should consider adapting existing clothes.
The only expense is the cost of the Velcro patch, which are very affordable. Another advantage to this approach is that the seniors can keep their favorite clothes.