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Posted: March 25, 2004

Clothing Tailored for Conditions

Being Elderly and Ill is No Reason Not to Be Comfortable and Fashionable

Remember the days of pet rocks, lava lamps and disco fever? Back in those days of the late 70?s and early 80?s, I was working in nursing homes in Massachusetts. Part of my job as an activities director was to arrange for ?fashion shows? for the residents who often were in need of adaptive clothing due to a variety of illnesses and conditions including arthritis, incontinence and stroke.

Sales staff would bring in trunks, cases and racks of clothing meant to be user-friendly for people who were dealing problems such as limited mobility, bladder and bowel control or who were seated for most of the day in wheelchairs or recliners. The clothing selections were pretty much limited to floral-splashed dusters trimmed with Peter Pan collars, durable polyester slacks in practical tones of dark brown and navy, and sturdy slippers thinly disguised as shoes.

Just as our lives have been changed by the introduction of microwaves, cell phones and computers, there have been major advances in adaptive clothing and adaptive devices to make elderly dressing and getting around easier. Clothing choices for caregivers and the elderly they buy for have moved beyond frumpy to include cargo pants and designer T-shirts.

Examples of adaptive clothing and devices currently on the market include dresses and shirts with offset buttons to discourage people with Alzheimer?s disease from undressing at inappropriate times. Other clothing choices come with strips of Velcro placed beneath cuffs or underneath false buttons on shirt fronts to give the appearance of ?off the rack? styling. Back-cut and back-wrap dresses, robes and skirts allow for comfort and provide adequate covering when standing or transferring.

Want to wear jeans but concerned about pressure sores? Don?t worry. You can find jeans designed with no back pockets, no rivets and extra flat seams. Cargo and capri length pants give style with the advantage of large pockets making it easy to carry needed personal items or medical supplies.

Want to cover a leg bag or a catheter? Choose pants made with extra leg room. If your loved one sits for extended periods of time, you might look for ?sitting pants? or jackets which are cropped in the back to avoid the bunching of fabric. Some pants open completely flat to allow for easier changes and self-dressing.

Elastic bands, button hooks and Velcro strips are alternatives for those who can no longer manipulate buttons, clasps or snaps. Wrist or finger loops can be attached to skirts and pants as aids. Shoelaces are troublesome for many but can be replaced by elastic ties or Velcro closures. Socks can be maneuvered with a gadget that functions in much the same way as a shoe horn. And if you need two different shoe sizes, back opening shoes or only one shoe, there are places waiting to fill your order.

Carolynn Weinert, a former nurse, owns a home-based business, Specially for You (www.speciallyforyou.net), which offers custom designs for people with adaptive clothing needs. ?Our two most requested items are ?sitting pants? and capes for people who use wheelchairs. No matter what I make, I almost never do a pattern as it is. I do all the cutting, and nothing is cut or sewn before it is ordered.?

She says most of her orders come through her website. ?I?ve got East Coast buyers and international buyers. But it is a constant struggle to know how to best reach the people who are looking for our products. So many people are not on the Internet, especially the elderly.?

?There are fabulous products out there,? says Shelly Peterman Schwarz who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1979. Schwarz is a wife, mother, advocate and motivational speaker living in Wisconsin. She agrees with Weinert that the ?biggest problem is not the lack of resources? but rather that people don?t know how to locate what is available.

To help address the problem, Schwarz has written a consumer handbook titled, ?Dressing Tips and Clothing Resources for Making Life Easier? (The Attainment Company, 2000). ?But there is no getting around it, there is extra cost and time involved in all of this. Long distance phone calls, choosing fabrics, shipping charges, time delays and waiting for orders to be filled are all hurdles. It takes longer to get what you need. It requires more planning to get what you want. And there are glitches. But I tell people it?s all worth it. When you look good, you feel better.?

So, how can you find what you need to help a loved one to look good and feel better?

Schwarz runs down a number of sources including retail stores, catalogs, the Internet and boutiques. Boutiques can be more expensive but they also offer personalized shopping assistance and may be able to handle alterations. Local or state chapters addressing the health concerns of people coping with specific illnesses or conditions may good resources. The staff, volunteers and support group members may be able to suggest local sources, or the organization may have a lending library of specialty catalogs.

Other options include custom orders or doing one?s own sewing with patterns designed expressly for adaptive clothing.

Schwarz says consumers need to speak up about their needs if they want to see changes in what is available. She summarizes the situation by saying, ?The market will produce whatever people will buy. We need to let businesses know we are looking for solutions and once they see how many of us are looking to buy adaptive clothing or any adaptive item, the businesses will step up to fill the need.?

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Paula Sanders McCarron is a writer and poet living in Anchorage, Alaska. She has more than 20 years of experience in healthcare, including nursing homes, hospice and homecare and can be reached at psmcustomcpu.com

RESOURCES:

For more information on this topic, check out these sources:

Web listing of adaptive clothing resources, visit www.makoa.org/clothing.htm

Dressing Tips for People with Alzheimer's, visit www.alznyc.org/caregivers/dressing.htm

Clothing Ideas for the Mobility Impaired, Iowa State University, University Extension, visit www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/CL0105.pdf

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