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Adaptive Clothing Takes Stress out of Dressing

New garments and accessories help caregivers assist those who are older or mobility challenged

A woman helping a man in a wheelchair, tie shoe laces.

Getty Images

While no two caretakers face the same day-to-day issues, one universal strain remains: the inherent challenge of dressing loved ones who can't dress themselves. 

“Not feeling comfortable or confident helping a loved one with their care needs … can sometimes be the breaking point for families, in terms of feeling unable to care for them at home anymore,” explains Alison Lynn, the assistant director for care programs at the Penn Memory Center, a National Institute on Aging-designated Alzheimer's Disease Center.

Now more than ever, however, an increasing number of designers and retailers are solving this caregiving dilemma by offering a range of clothing options — commonly referred to as "adaptive wear" — that run the gamut from easy-on shoes and belts to dashing pajamas. “[In the past], adaptive wear was one of two things — either institutional, or completely custom and very expensive. Now, we’re moving past that … with options that people would be excited about wearing,” says Allison M. Kabel, an associate professor of health sciences at Towson University, whose research looks at the factors that shape one’s sense of dignity.

It’s a smart business move, according to the latest data from the National Health Interview Survey, given that more than 3 million people 50 and older require some form of help when dressing, explains Carrie Henning-Smith, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

So whether it's shopping for a button-free shirt so that a spouse with Parkinson’s disease can get dressed independently or finding pants with flattened seams for a wheelchair-using parent, there are now a variety of attractive choices. Here’s a guide to some of the most useful, affordable and inventive adaptive-wear resources available.

Easy Closures

Alium Adaptive ApparelLaunched last November, Alium Adaptive Apparel sells three stylish, sporty items for women, with more items coming: a wrap sweater ($59), nightshirt ($45) and pants ($79). The pants have convenient side-zippers, and closures are softer than typical Velcro. Pants and nightgowns go up to size extra-large; sweaters go up to 2XL.

Buck & Buck: One of the first and biggest retailers in the adaptive clothing market, Buck & Buck — which is available online and through their free by-request catalog — is a one-stop shop for everything from back-closure garments to underwear, outerwear and shoes. Most styles go up to 3XL, and some go up to 4XL or more; price range varies.

CareZipsA brilliant solution for caregivers who regularly change adult briefs, CareZips pants ($39.99) have three strategic zippers that allow pants to be frontally opened for easy changing; the pants can also accommodate needs such as catheters, dialysis and more. Sizes go up to 3XL.

Dignity PajamasMade of soft 100 percent cotton, these fashion-forward pajamas have covered Velcro back closures, making them ideal for men (from $69) and women (from $59) who are bedridden or in hospice care. Sizes go up to extra-large and are cut full.

MagnaReady: You’d never know that MagnaReady’s stylish “button-down” shirts don’t actually button down; they’re that chic and authentic looking. Same goes for the company’s flannel shirts, polos, khakis and twill pants, which all rely on washing-machine-safe magnetic closures — making wearers feel put together while offering speed and simplicity to caregivers. Prices range from $45.99 to $64.95 and are available in plus sizes.

Silvert’s: Silvert’s is a veritable emporium of adaptive clothing and footwear. The Silvert’s website makes it easy to shop for your loved one by need and condition — from Parkinson’s and incontinence to paralysis, cerebral palsy and more. Many brands are available in plus sizes; price range varies.

MagnaReady shirt with magnetic buttons

Raleigh News & Observer via Getty Images

MagnaReady founder Maura Horton shows the magnetic buttons in her company's shirts.

Seamless Denim

ABL Denim: ABL’s line of seamless, soft denim is primarily targeted at those who use wheelchairs, spend much time seated or otherwise dislike the pressure created by denim seams. The line of full-length jeans and jean shorts even has a higher (elastic) waistband in the back of the garment to avoid the inevitable slip-down that comes with wearing typical denim. Prices start at $46, and waist sizes go up to 42 inches for women and 46 for men.

TargetAs if there weren’t already enough excuses to head to Target, the nationwide chain has recently introduced a new line called Universal Thread — women’s jeans with flattened seams (to reduce pressure points), higher-rise backs, longer inseams, soft fabric and wider legs. They also sell a wide range of tag-less tops for those with sensory sensitivity. Select styles are available in plus sizes.

Wheelchair Suitable

IZ AdaptiveA beloved Canadian brand that just relaunched this month, IZ sells stunning suits, coats, capes and more, with special attention paid to wheelchair users and amputees. Prices start at $25 for a T-shirt and go up to $425 for men’s suits; sizes go up to 3XL.

Zappos Adaptive: Adored for its speedy shipping and 365-day return policy, Zappos is no longer just for shoes. Launched in April 2017, Zappos Adaptive sells a curated range of fashionable adaptive clothing, organized on its site by need — from diabetic shoes and sensory-friendly clothing to wheelchair-suitable brands. Labels for older persons include — but are not limited to — many of the ones on this list, plus NBZ Apparel, Nike, SAS, Propét, Drew, Kizik, and Care+Wear. Select styles are available in plus sizes.

Accessories 

Myself Belts: Belts may not be an essential part of an outfit, but seemingly simple details can go a long way in making someone feel confident and polished. And as the only line of adult belts that can be put on with the use of just one hand, they’re not only suitable for individuals who’ve lost use of a hand but are also just as convenient for caretakers who need one hand free to steady the person whom they’re dressing. Belts go up to size 48. 

Read the full series on caregiving and technology

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