Clothing for seniors with limited mobility

With growing age, many everyday tasks that we take for granted become more difficult to perform. Take, for example, the task of clothing oneself. While we may not realize it, wearing clothes requires us to be able to twist and turn, bend down, have stable hands and the ability to grip things. All of these are difficult to do without proper strength and balance in our bodies, which gets eroded with old age.

Thankfully, over the years, the clothing industry has evolved to bring out easy-to-use solutions for the problems of old age clothing. Adaptive clothing has been helping seniors live fuller lives and giving them the confidence that they need to go out and conquer the world.

Why Adaptive Clothing?

Clothing is not merely the act of covering the body to weather the vagaries of the seasons. It is an act of independence, a statement of self-worth and the outward symbol of a person’s confidence in their abilities and their outlook for the future.

  1. When you lose the ability to wear as per your choice, you lose the confidence that comes with it. The loss of freedom to dress can be the among the first signals of upcoming hardships for an elderly person. The emotional stress that it causes is worse than any bodily pain or disease.
  2. Arthritic patients, people who have lost dexterity and suffer from back and leg pain find it difficult to clothe themselves due to the pain that comes with the movement required to dress.
  3. For caregivers also, it is an additional burden when they have to dress their wards.

What Is Adaptive Clothing? 

Clothing that is mindful of the myriad conditions, pains, aches and troubles that people with old age or disability have to face when trying to dress is known as adaptive clothing.

Adaptive fashion customizes clothes to help wearers circumvent the difficulties in putting on and taking off clothes. Below are a few examples:

  1. Replacing traditional buttons in shirts with magnetic closures for people with arthritis who find it difficult to open or close traditional buttons.
  2. Elasticized pants for wheelchair users who need to get dressed while seated
  3. Shoes with Velcro and zippered openings replacing shoelaces

In this writeup, we discuss the different examples of adaptive clothing.

Adaptive Clothing Examples

Open back pants

Open back pants are special pants that are open from the back but have a modesty flap to cover the rear on top of the pants. These pants are recommended for seniors who are confined to wheelchairs or have trouble bearing weight and therefore cannot wear regular pants.

The pants are worn over the legs (either in a sitting or a standing position) and the two ends are then tied together behind the back, without having to cover the rear of the person, thus making it easy to wear them without getting up from a wheelchair. There are modesty flaps on either side of the pants which are fastened to the pants by 3 snaps. These flaps fall into place once the pants are worn, covering up the rear either in a seated or even in an upright position.

Velcro closures instead of laces

Shoes with laces are difficult to reach for seniors who may have arthritis and back pain. At the same time tying a shoelace is a complex activity that may be difficult for people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, who may have lost fine motor skills. Lastly, anyone with poor eyesight will also find it difficult to tie laces.

Instead of shoelaces, velcro straps can be an easy to use and quick way to keep their shoes tied, without having to do the physically and mentally challenging task of tying together laces.

Open back blouses, shirts and dresses

Open-back tops are useful for those seniors who cannot lift their arms above their heads. 

Just like open back pants, these shirts, blouses and tops have flaps on the back that fall into place once the garment is worn from the front. This gives full coverage to the back without having to discomfort the patient by having them lift their arms. The flaps are fastened to the side of the clothing through snaps and can be adjusted according to the size of the wearer.

Pants open on the sides

Open side pants are very useful for seniors who are suffering from arthritis or have lost dexterity in their hands to be able to do buttons and zippers. These pants have flaps on either side which open up for putting on the pants easily and then fasten back using velcro straps on either side, thus avoiding buttons and zippers which are difficult to negotiate.

Zippers with easy pull tabs

This is, of course, a no-brainer for people with poor eyesight or arthritis and anyone who has lost the use of their fine motor skills. The concept is to add a long and easy to pull tab, which may also have a loop in it to be able to insert a finger into. Opening zippers becomes a breeze with these tabs, and they can also add color and pizzazz to the dress.

Magnetic closures instead of buttons

Shirt and pant buttons are difficult to negotiate if your loved one has lost dexterity in their hands, is suffering from Parkinson’s or other forms of dementia, or else simply has poor eyesight with old age. 

Magnetic closures snap into place automatically when one end of the closure is brought close to the other, making the task of button closure a breeze. The magnetic closure may be hidden behind decorative buttons, thus giving an appearance of normalcy on the shirt or trouser.

Flat seams

A flat seam or felled seam is a joint made between two pieces of cloth where one edge is placed inside the folded edge of the fabric, and the fold is then stitched down. The fold envelops the raw edge of the cloth, thus protecting it from fraying. This reduces the friction between the rough edge of the cloth and the skin of the person wearing it. 

Adaptive clothing with felled seams such as this help to reduce the chance of skin breakdown and pressure sores due to friction between the cloth and skin.

Anti Strip Suits

If your loved one is senior suffering from the later stages of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, you may have noticed symptoms such as repetition, paranoia and fidgeting. Dementia care is one of the hardest ways of caregiving since the symptoms are not only difficult to understand but also very difficult to control.

One of the more embarrassing and difficult to handle symptoms that can happen in dementia is the tendency of the patient to disrobe. While exact causes are unknown, irritability about not being able to communicate properly can trigger a response of taking off their clothes in your loved one.

There are many types of anti-strip attire, as mentioned below:

  1. Normal anti-strip suits: These have a zipper running down the back of the suit, with a dome closure at the top that goes over the zipper, thus locking it in and preventing stripping.
  2. Dignity suits: These are similar to the original suit, with an added zipper at the bottom (mostly for adult diapers or incontinence aids.
  3. Anti-strip underwear: If you prefer that your loved one continue to wear normal clothes, anti-strip underwear is a nice safety device to prevent stripping. These under garments have snaps at the bottom and hook closures at the top to prevent disrobing.

Slippers that adjust in size for swollen feet

If your loved one is wheelchair-bound, you might have noticed that they tend to end up having swollen feet every night. Some products can adjust themselves to the size of the foot, thus reducing pain and keeping the blood circulation going in the feet.

Typically shoes for swollen feet may have a 3 side open mouth, with flaps on the left, right and the front of the shoe. There are velcro straps for closing the left and right tabs and another velcro strap to fasten the one in the front. As the straps can be adjusted as per the size of the foot, these shoes provide comfort when worn over swollen feet.


Adaptive clothing has gained prominence in the last few years, with several fashion companies in the market: Silverts, IZ adaptive, Able2Wear, Adaptations by Adrian and Easy2Access. Fashion majors such as Tommy Hilfiger and Nike have also launched adaptive specific products and brands. 

Today seniors who may be confined to a wheelchair, or have lost they’re fine motors skills do not need to feel left out or unable to wear clothes to match their preference, due to the difficulty in wearing normal clothes.

Adaptive clothing is an evolving piece of work, and new ideas and designs are hitting the market every day. We hope this writeup gave you ideas on what is currently available in the market and if it suits the needs of your loved one!

Ritesh is an engineer and an PGDM from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. He has worked at senior positions in corporate strategy, planning and data analytics. Ritesh’s tryst with help and wellness started 9 years ago, when his mother developed a severe calcium deficiency and had to be confined to move with the support of a walker. What was once a difficult experience, soon became a healthy obsession. Reading about the latest health products, gadgets and proper diet and exercise for the elderly became a hobby. Ritesh brings his enthusiasm for adaptive equipment, health and fitness to this blog.

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