Adaptive Clothing Helps when Dressing is a Challenge

By Lisa M. Petsche

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If medical problems are making it difficult to get dressed independently, or you are challenged with providing hands-on assistance to a chronically ill relative, it’s time to look into specialty clothing options.

Numerous merchants offer adaptive clothing for adults with health issues that include arthritis, foot problems, mobility problems (due to stroke, for example), incontinence, kyphosis (severe rounding of the upper spine), obesity, and dementia. The hallmark of special needs clothing is two-fold: fabrics that are easy-care (wash and wear), resist shrinkage, contain stretch, and are durable (standing up to institutional laundering); and designs that take into account practicality, comfort, modesty, and fashion.  The fit is relaxed, and discreet Velcro or snap closures — substituting for hard-to-handle buttons — are common, as are elasticized waistbands.

Specialty clothing exists for every type of men’s and women’s apparel, from underwear, hosiery, and nightwear to casual wear, dress clothes, and outerwear, as well as footwear.


  • People with arthritis can find blouses, shirts, and dresses with front Velcro closures (often concealed by decorative buttons) or zippers with a ringed toggle for easy grasping. For those with limited range of motion in their arms who receive assistance with dressing, there are many types of rear-closing garments that easily slip on, including back-snap undershirts and slips. Sweat pants have open cuffs, making them easier to pull on and off.
  • Seniors with curvature of the upper spine (hunched back) can find clothing with extra gathering at the back.

Mobility Issues

  • For those with mobility problems, items are available that go on easily from a sitting and in some cases a lying position. There are tops, dresses, dusters, and nightgowns with half or full back openings that have a generous overlap; dome or Velcro closures are situated at key spots. Other common features are raglan sleeves for ease of movement and patch pockets for convenience. Athletic and dress pants may have deep openings at each hip, with a fold-downfront panel; another option is cutaway pants with overlapping back panels. Culottes and wraparound skirts arepopular choices for women.
  • Other apparel designed for wheelchair users includes socks with skid-resistant treads that make transferring safer, hooded terry bath capes, lap robes, shoulder cosies, and water-repellent capes for summer and winter.

Some of the above styles may be available in plus sizes as high as 5XL.

Foot Problems

  • For those with foot problems, there are pre-shrunk socks with superior stretch that accommodate swollen feet and legs without constricting circulation; thigh-high and knee-high stockings with non-binding, elasticized tops; and quilted, Velcro-closing wraps that prevent ankles from rubbing together while ensuring circulation in those who are not ambulatory.•
  • Typical shoe features are stretchy uppers that mould to the foot to provide support, Velcro closures, cushioned insoles, and skid-resistant soles. Some styles are washable.  There are also lightweight runners and Velcro-closing,water-resistant boots. Slipper designs may include skid-resistant soles, cross-over Velcro closures that ensure a custom fit, and back zippers that relieve heel pressure. Bootie styles offer extra support and warmth.

Alzheimer’s Disease

  • For people with Alzheimer’s disease who are prone to disrobing, there are jumpsuits and one-piece pajamas that close at the back with zippers or snaps.  These are especially valuable in institutional settings, to preserve modesty.


  • Various types of washable incontinence briefs are available for anyone who has problems with bladder control.

Feeding Problems

  • For those who have difficulty with self-feeding, aprons and lap pads with vinyl backing are available, to protectclothing from spills. Other accessories include pre-knotted ties (with an adjustable zipper), scarves, belts, suspenders,and printed name labels (for those in healthcare facilities).

A limited variety of adaptive clothing is offered by some major department store chains, either in-store or through their shop-at-home catalog. The most comprehensive selection is available from mail-order specialty clothing companies. Examples of such companies are Comfort Clothing (1-888-640-0814 or and Wardrobe Wagon (1-800-992-2737 or

Medical supply stores may carry a limited variety of special needs apparel and accessories, such as hospital gowns and adult bibs, in addition to adaptive dressing equipment. Look for them in the yellow pages under “Hospital Equipment and Supplies.”

2013-07-15T13:44:07-04:00By |

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