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Aging in Place at Home: The Definitive Guide Part 9

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Dressing Banner

Getting dressed may seem like a simple enough activity, but it involves a whole set of important faculties. Proper range of motion is needed to reach up to slip on shirts and bend down to put on shoes. Sliding arms into sleeves and legs into pants requires coordination. Dexterity is necessary to button shirts, pull zippers, and tie shoes. Unfortunately, age whittles away at the requisite skills until eventually dressing turns into a real challenge.

The most common “solution” employed by those who struggle with dressing is preferring outfits that are relatively easier to put on. This usually means wearing only a select few articles of clothing or even wearing the same clothes every day, which leads to odor problems and bodily cleanliness issues.

Though not directly related to hygiene, the worst impact of this deja vu dressing pattern might actually be the toll it takes on one’s dignity. The ability to properly dress oneself and to choose what one would like to wear is a huge part of being independent. The assistive devices and home modifications in this section help older adults maintain their independence when it comes to dressing.

Sock dressing aid


Putting on a pair of socks may be out of the question for those who are unable to bend down and reach low enough to slip the socks over their feet.

A sock dressing aid allows users to put on socks without the bending and reaching.

Users stretch the sock over the holder, place the holder on the ground, insert the foot into the sock, and slide the sock up the leg by pulling on the long straps.

Sock dressing aid

Must-have Features

Flexible sock holder – The material that the sock holder is made of should be flexible enough to mold to the user’s feet and legs but stiff enough to keep shape while slipping on the sock.

The flexibility of the holder makes the sock aid more likely to fit a variety of feet and leg sizes.

Features to consider

Flexible sock dressing aidSoft sock holder – Users with sensitive or weak skin may want to consider finding a sock dressing aid that has a soft sock holder. Sock holders are typically only made of plastic, but some holders have an extra outer layer made cloth and nylon.

These cloth and nylon sock holders are easier on the skin, yet still perform like a conventional plastic holder because they have the shape and support of the inner plastic mold. If a plastic sock holder is too abrasive for a user’s skin, then consider a cloth and nylon sock holder instead.

Features to avoid

Rigid plastic holder – A holder that is too rigid may make it too hard to stretch the sock over the holder. Also, a holder that is too rigid doesn’t yield to the size of the user’s feet and legs.

This can make sliding the sock up the leg uncomfortable or even painful if the holder is so rigid that it pinches the user’s leg. Or the force of sliding the sock up the leg may stretch the holder beyond its capabilities and cause it to break.

Avoid rigid plastic holders and stick to more flexible options.

Rigid sock dressing aid

What to know before buying

Sock dressing aids enable users to put on socks, but they do not offer assistance with taking off socks. To get help with removing socks, users should use a grabber tool or an extra-long handled shoehorn.

The sock dressing aid holder cannot hold its shape when used with compression stockings. Since compression stockings are so tight, they require a special donner that can stand up to their pressure.

If a user’s skin is sweat when trying to put on socks with a sock dressing aid, then the sock holder might stick to the skin and make it difficult to pull up.

A good remedy for this is to apply baby powder on feet, legs, and the sock holder to make sliding easier.

Recommended supplementary products and home modifications

Compression stocking donner


Those with venous and lymphatic disorders very often need compression stockings to reduce swelling and improve blood circulation in their feet and legs. The tension in compression stockings is so tight, though, that even the most capable users have a very hard time putting them on and taking them off.

Stretching the compression stockings open requires significant hand strength that older users don’t possess. Plus, most users are unable to bend down low enough to place the stockings onto their feet. These difficulties often force users to enlist the help of a caregiver or simply go without if no caretaker is available.

A compression stocking donner enables users to handle compression stockings independently.

Must-have Features

Adjustable-size stocking holder – The stocking holder opening should be adjustable so that it can accommodate various feet, leg, and stocking sizes.

Users who struggle with stretching the stocking onto the holder can first adjust the opening to its smallest setting. After placing the stocking on the holder, users can then expand the opening up to a larger size so that it will fit over their feet and legs.

Some adjustable stocking holders do not have size settings, but instead are made to have a flexible nature that conforms to the size the user needs. Make sure these flexible stocking holders are still firm enough to hold their shape under the tension of the stockings stretched over them.

Adjustable-size stocking donner

To better ensure a proper fit and greater usability, choose an adjustable-size stocking holder.

Straps – The compression stocking donner must have straps or handles that allow users to put on and take off their stockings without having to bend down. Users should be able to stretch the stocking onto the holder from a seated or standing position, use the straps to lower the holder to the ground, and then use the straps to pull the stocking up onto their feet and legs.

Stocking donner handles
Stocking donner handles - extended

Don’t purchase a compression stocking donner unless it has long straps or handles.

Features to avoid

Wire-frame stocking donnerEpoxy-coated metal wire donner – Users should avoid compression stocking donners that are made of epoxy-coated metal wire because they are too rigid.

Those with larger feet and legs find the stiff metal wire to be less forgiving than other donners.

Furthermore, the wire frame can uncomfortably squeeze and jab the user’s legs and feet. Avoid epoxy-coated metal wire donners.

What to know before buying

Even with the assistance of a compression stocking donning, a pair of stocking donning gloves can streamline the process still more. Consider getting stocking donning gloves to help with gripping and smoothing the stockings.

In most cases, a compression stocking donner is incompatible with normal socks. For assistance with putting on typical socks, use a sock dressing aid.

Recommended supplementary products and home modifications

Stocking donning gloves


Getting a good grip on compression stockings can be troublesome for even the most sure-handed individuals, so stocking donning gloves are a vital tool for those who wear compression stockings.

Stocking donning gloves

Stocking donning gloves are specifically designed to improve grip when handling stockings and, consequently, make the process of placing the compression stockings onto a donner’s stocking holder much easier.

Stocking donning gloves also help with smoothing wrinkles out of stockings once they’ve been put on and manipulating stockings more easily when taking them off.

Must-have Features

Non-slip – Donning gloves must be made of a non-slip material so they can easily grip the compression stockings. The entire palm of the glove should be non-slip.

Gloves made with natural and synthetic rubber are typically the best options available.

Stocking donning gloves with textured gripTextured palms and fingers – Stocking donning gloves must have a textured finish on the palms and fingers. Gloves with a raised finish give a better grip and allow users to manipulate the compression stockings more easily.

Very pronounced nubs or ridges on the glove are best, but other textures typically perform well, too.

Features to consider

Latex-free – Those with latex allergies should be sure to find a donning glove that is latex-free. Gloves made of vinyl and nitrile are good alternatives.

Features to avoid

Cloth glove lining – The best donning gloves not only have a non-slip exterior but have a non-slip interior, too. The non-slip interior keeps the gloves on users’ hands when smoothing out and pulling on stockings.

Without a non-slip interior, the glove slides off the user’s hand because there’s not enough resistance between the hand and the glove lining to counteract the resistance of the glove exterior against the stockings. Avoid stocking donning gloves with cloth linings and stick to gloves with a non-slip interior.

What to know before buying

Users have different preferences when it comes to glove sizes. Some prefer a snug fit, others prefer a more loose-fitting glove.

Those who have trouble putting on and taking off tight gloves may need to opt for a slightly larger-than-normal size.

Recommended supplementary products and home modifications

Extra-long handled shoehorn


ShoehornNot everyone is able to bend low enough and stretch far enough to slip on a pair of shoes. Even those who can manage to reach down and grab their shoes may not have the hand strength and coordination to force the shoes over their heels.

And some try jamming their feet into the shoes while standing, only to crush the back of the shoes and lose their balance in the process.

An extra-long handled shoehorn allows users of almost all strength and ability to put on and take off their shoes quickly and easily.

Must-have Features

Proper length – Shoehorns range from a few inches to more than two feet in length. The ideal shoehorn length depends on the height of the seat and the anthropometrics of the user. Too long and users have to awkwardly choke up on the shaft; too short and users have to uncomfortably stretch to reach their shoes.

Follow the instructions below on how to determine the proper shoehorn length.

Smooth, soft edges – Whatever material the shoehorn is made of, it is important that its edges are smooth and its shape is without sharp points. The edges of metal and plastic shoehorns should be deburred and soft to the touch. Likewise, wooden shoehorns should have sanded edges and a smooth finish.

If the shoehorn falls on the user’s feet and toes, the softened edges help protect against injury. And the smooth edges protect fragile skin from cuts that may otherwise occur while handling the shoehorn.

Features to consider

Padded handle – Those with arthritis and sensitive hands should find a shoehorn with a padded handle.

Long-handled shoehorn with padded grip

The softer grip can bring relief to those who experience discomfort or pain when holding onto a harder handle.

Construction material – Generally, there are three materials used to make shoehorns: plastic, wood, and metal. Each have pros and cons:

Plastic – Plastic shoehorns are the least expensive and give the most flexibility, so users can more likely bend the shoehorn to help fit their feet into the shoes.

This also makes plastic shoehorns more susceptible to bend out of shape and even snap under pressure. Replacement is reasonable, though, since they are inexpensive.

Plastic shoehorn

Metal – Metal shoehorns are the most expensive and offer the most durability, so users can rely on the shoehorn to last a long time. The rigidity of metal shoehorns means they don’t flex under the force of the user’s feet, making metal shoehorns a good option for bariatric users.

On the other end of the spectrum, those with fragile feet and bones may not be able to tolerate metal shoehorns. Furthermore, metal shoehorns tend to be much heavier than other kinds, so weaker users may not be able to easily control them.

Metal shoehorn

Wood – Wooden shoehorns fall in the middle between plastic and metal on cost, durability, and flexibility.

Shoehorns made of wood are perhaps the most comfortable to hold without a padded handle. If none of the potential shoehorns have a padded handle, then wood may be the best option.

Wooden shoehorn

Features to avoid

Spring-loaded heel scoop – Some shoehorns have spring-loaded heel scoops that are designed to bend as users insert their feet into the shoes. The idea is that the heel scoop eases the foot into the shoe more gently.

Spring-loaded shoehorn

Unfortunately, shoehorns with spring-loaded heel scoops are more problematic than helpful.

First, the spring is too flexible and actually makes it more difficult for users to fit their feet into the shoes. Second, the juncture at which the heel scoop and the shaft meet is a weak point that often breaks.

Avoid shoehorns with spring-loaded heel scoops and stick to those without.

Adjustable length – To help customize the shoehorn to the user, manufacturers created shoehorns with a telescoping shaft that allows users to adjust the length as needed.

The shaft of these adjustable-length shoehorns must be hollow so the shaft can recess in and expand out. And the hollow shaft of adjustable-length shoehorns are too flimsy to function correctly.

Buy a shoehorn with a well-constructed, solid shaft.

What to know before buying

To find out the ideal shoehorn length, users should designate a chair where they intend to put on and take off shoes. Sit close to the edge of the seat, keep a straight back, and bend knees at an angle slightly greater than 90 degrees.

Let both hands comfortably rest on the corresponding thigh, close both hands as if holding a shoehorn, and point thumbs at the back of the opposite foot. Then measure the distance from the back of the hands to the bottom of the opposite heel.

Look for a shoehorn that is close to this measurement. If forced to choose between slightly shorter and slightly longer, opt for the longer shoehorn because it is better to have to choke up slightly on the handle than to have to bend down to reach the shoe.

Users who cannot bend down and reach their shoes need a grabber tool to assist with retrieving and repositioning their shoes.

Once the shoes are properly placed in front of the user, the grabber tool can hold the shoe still while the user slips the front part of the foot into the shoe opening. And with the front of the foot pushed into the shoe, the user can finally employ the shoehorn to slide in the rest of the foot.

A grabber tool is great for assisting with shoehorn use.

Elastic shoe strings that allow the tongue of the shoe to easily lift up as users insert their feet can also improve the efficacy of shoehorns.

Recommended supplementary products and home modifications

Button hook


Button hookDiminished fine motor skills can make a task as simple as buttoning clothes too challenging for some users. Arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, stroke, and other conditions can all significantly reduce the finger and hand function needed to button clothes

A button hook is a tool that enables users to button their clothes without struggling to finger the buttons manually.

Must-have Features

Sturdy wire loop – The wire loop that attaches to the handle should be rigid so that it keeps its shape and doesn’t bend when users manipulate the button through the hole.

Wire loop button hookThe wire loop is the most important part of a button hook, so it is of utmost importance that it is very durable.

Button hook with built-up gripBuilt-up handle – A button hook with a thick, built-up handle is easier to hold for everyone.

Users don’t need to close their grip as tightly around a fatter handle as they do with a smaller handle, which is a huge help to those with limited grip strength.

Features to consider

Wire loop size – The width of a button hook’s wire loop dictates the size of buttons that are compatible with that button hook. Button hooks come with either a small loop meant for buttoning shirts or a large loop meant for buttoning pants.

Small button hook loop
Large button hook loop

Consider the user’s needs and make sure to purchase a button hook with the correct loop size. It’s most prudent to purchase both a small and large button hook to be prepared for any button size.

Features to avoid

Folds up – To make button hooks more compact, manufacturers created a version that folds up small enough to fit in a pocket.

Folding button hook

The problem with these button hooks is that they are less able to hold up to pressure and can accidentally fold up while in use. Avoid the hassle of fold-up button hooks and opt for the more durable, non-folding kind.

What to know before buying

Before buying a button hook, users should make sure they are capable of using it properly. Users must guide the button hook through the button hole, loop the wire around the button, and pull the hook along with the button back through the hole.

Users should invest in both a large and small size button hook so they can button pants, shirts, and other articles of clothing with various button sizes.

Buttons are on the right side of men’s shirts and the left side of women’s shirts.

The button hook inserts through the holes from the opposite side of the buttons, so it is most natural to use a button hook in the left hand for men’s shirts and in the right hand for women’s shirts.

Those who cannot use the button hook in the more suitable hand due to injury or poor dexterity must learn how to use the button hook with a reverse grip.

Recommended supplementary products and home modifications

Clothing dressing aid


A clothing dressing aid helps those who have limited mobility in their hips, knees, shoulders, and neck to put on clothes.

Hip, knee, and shoulder surgery can all significantly diminish the range of motion in the affected area. Less severe chronic conditions such as a frozen shoulder and a stiff neck can make putting on clothes a painful experience. Slipping on a pair of pants can trip up users who have compromised balance and result in a fall.

A clothing dressing aid keeps users in a safe position while putting on clothes and makes the process much easier.

What to know before buying

There is one commercially available clothing dressing aid that stands out among the rest: the Miracle Dressing Aid. For those who have the use of both hands, the Miracle Dressing Aid offers the most streamlined method for putting on clothes with minimal effort.

Users recovering from knee, hip, and shoulder surgery are ideal candidates for the Miracle Dressing Aid because the device keeps these joints secure so as to avoid accidental dislocation.

Miracle dressing aid device

The Miracle Dressing Aid can be used to put on shirts:

Miracle dressing aid for shirts

And pants:

Miracle dressing aid putting on pants

Although a Miracle Dressing Aid can be sufficient on its own, a grabber tool is a supplementary device that can expedite the dressing process even further.

For those who only have the use of one hand, a grabber tool is the best solution for assistance with dressing.

Donning clothes one-handed can be a deliberate process, but the time it takes to get dressed gradually lessens as users improve at handling a grabber tool. Users who only have one hand or have paralysis on one side of the body are ideal candidates for the grabber tool method.

Proper sitting posturePlace an armchair with a proper seat height in the bedroom to use for getting dressed. The ideal chair height is positioned to give the user 90 degree bends at the hips, knees, and ankles. The best process to determine the proper height is really one of experimentation.

Have the user sit in an adjustable height chair like a pneumatic office chair and check the angles at the hips, knees, and ankles. Adjust the height of the chair as needed to establish these 90 degree angles.

If an adjustable chair is not available, use a chair that is too tall and place something flat under the user’s feet to serve as an elevated floor. Increase the height of the “floor” until the user’s hips, knees, and ankles all create 90 degree angles.

Pneumatic office chair for measuring user's ideal seat dimensions

Adjust the height of a pneumatic office chair for correct sitting posture

Place feet on a prop for correct sitting posture

Place feet on a prop for correct sitting posture

Once the user is seated properly, measure the seat height:

How to measure seat height

Seat height (floor to bottom of thigh where it meets the knee at 90 degrees)

Sitting while putting on clothes helps prevent falls that may happen if users try to get dressed while standing. Also, the chair supports users while dressing and makes the process less physically taxing.

Mount a full-length mirror in front of the designated dressing armchair to offer users visual assistance. Make sure the mirror is positioned so the user’s entire body is visible while seated.

Putting on and taking off tops can be the most challenging of all the dressing tasks, especially for those with limited mobility in the shoulders and neck.

To make donning and doffing tops easier, consider wearing button-down shirts. Lifting a shirt up over one’s head to get dressed can be painful or even impossible for some users, but an open-front top eliminates the need to lift it up to put it on.

Consider using a button hook to assist with buttoning open-front shirts.

Recommended supplementary products and home modifications

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