This may say more about me than about Kate, but I believe that issues involving clothes have been among the most frequent issues with which I have dealt during her 7-year journey with Alzheimer’s. In the early years, the problem centered on the fact that she didn’t hang up or put away her clothes. At one point, we had three bedrooms with her clothes stacked on the beds, furniture, and floor. For quite a while, I didn’t say or do anything to change her behavior. It was frustrating for her and for me. She couldn’t find anything to wear.
At the same time, she was eating more than she used to and gaining weight. That meant a lot of her clothes no longer fit. My response to that was to buy new clothes. What I didn’t count on (but should have), was their getting lost as quickly as the old ones. During one year, I bought her almost 20 pair of pants. She still couldn’t find something to wear. (Yes, I’m a slow learner.)
I decided the way to tackle the problem was to take pictures of the new clothes. I thought that would at least enable me to find them more easily. It worked for her tops, but her pants looked alike to me. They were either black, tan, or brown. I still had a hard time identifying the new (the ones that fit) from the old (the ones that didn’t). Gradually, I got better at identifying the different labels and sizes.
That prompted me to start getting rid of the clothes that didn’t fit. As Kate tried these clothes and tossed them aside, I would come behind her and take them to my closet. Little by little I gave them to our housekeeper whose church collected old clothes for those who needed them.
My problem was still not solved. Clothes were still scattered among our two guest rooms and a bedroom we call “Kate’s room.” That’s when I decided to reorganize her closet. I began to locate clothes that fit and started hanging them up. I put all of her tops on the left as you enter her closet and arranged them by color. On the right, I put all of her pants, also arranged by color. That has proven to be useful to me, and at one point, I think it helped her as well. I’m not so sure now.
To make my system work demands that I regularly pick up clothes that she has thrown on the floor or furniture and replace them on hangers in the closet. I frequently do this in the morning before she gets up. That way I can make sure that there are things she can wear that day.
One day a strange thing happened. Kate must have gotten so frustrated with clothes scattered everywhere that she started picking up her clothes and putting them in her closet. That was about two years ago. Since then, she has done a remarkably good job of not letting the rooms return to their previous unkempt appearance. That does not mean that she puts her clothes away after she wears them although she often does. Typically, she takes off her clothes in our bedroom and throws them on the floor or the chair on her side of the bed. They often stay there a day or so before I pick them up and put them away. At any rate, we do much better keeping her clothes straight and having clothes that fit.
Another clothes issue has been keeping them clean. There have been two separate parts of this problem. The first involves what she wears when she works in the yard. For three years or so after her diagnosis, she continued to wear her “yard clothes” when she was working outside. As her Alzheimer’s progressed, she started wearing her “good” clothes to work in. That was, and is still, not a problem for her, but it was for me. I wanted to know that she had clothes that she could wear to the various places we go on any given day. I didn’t want them messed up. That was especially true if they were brand new. I responded to this by giving up my efforts to get her to wear her yard clothes. That means her clothes get more messed up than I would like.
The second aspect of the clean clothes problem is keeping them clean with ordinary wear. It seems that it is next to impossible for her to wear something for even a short time during the day without getting it soiled. Almost every time she brushes her teeth she gets toothpaste on her clothes. When we are eating, she often drips food or drink on herself.
One of the things I have done that seems to have worked with these issues is to buy multiple pairs of LL Bean pants with an elastic waistband. I keep them on hand in different colors, and I can easily wash them at home. They have helped me a lot. Nowadays, I buy virtually all her clothes online. That has been a great convenience, and I have spent less money than what I was spending going to the local dress shops where she had shopped for years.
There are still other issues involving clothes that come up. They are ones that I simply accept. One of those started within the past year. For some reason, she started wearing 2 tops with her clothes, not always but most of the time. I know that layering can be a trendy thing, but Kate seems to pick tops that don’t match or complement each other. For example, this morning we attended church for the first time in quite a while. I have regretted this because we have both been so active in the church for as long as we have been members and believe it is an important connection to maintain. At any rate, I picked out something appropriate for her to wear. It is a very nice heavy knit shell and sweater combination and was pricier than things I usually buy. After we returned home from lunch, I suggested that we brush our teeth, change our clothes, and go to the Barnes & Noble Café. She liked that idea except that she didn’t see why she needed to change. I told her she was a little dressed up for a casual afternoon at Barnes & Noble. What I didn’t say was that I didn’t want her to get her good clothes messed up. She agreed to change and went back to her room to do so. When we she was ready to go, I mentioned that she hadn’t changed clothes. She said, “Oh,” and once again returned to her room. When she came back, she still had not changed. She had taken off the outer sweater but was wearing the shell with a casual tee shirt over it. The tail of the shell extends below that of the tee shirt. She was still wearing the same slacks and the shoes she had worn to church. I decided not to push it.
It turns out that she also was carrying two additional tops. She had taken one of them with us when we went to Panera the other day and simply put it on the table. She brought both of them with her in the car and took them into Barnes & Noble. She put one on the table and dropped the other on the floor.
Considering everything, I find that we have fewer problems with clothes now than in the past. I think there are three things that have made the difference. First, some of my organization has helped. Second, Kate has been more compliant when I suggest she wear something different. Finally, things are better because I don’t work hard to achieve my own goals regarding her clothes. I mostly let her wear whatever she wants. That is probably the most sensible thing I could do.