Complications of Getting Dressed
Last updated: March 2023
One of the things people without rheumatoid arthritis may be surprised by is that getting dressed with RA can be complicated! I know that I may be a special case because of the severity of my disease and joint limitations, but even when I was just starting out dressing became harder.
RA diagnosis made dressing harder
For example, shoelaces! Ack! They got me in knots. It was a two-part problem. First I had trouble reaching my feet. Then I had trouble with my finger dexterity and strength to tie and knot them (double knots always!) well enough to stay.
When I was a kid, Velcro just came out and so sneakers with Velcro instead of laces became popular. It worked in my favor! But it still became challenging because I had increasing trouble reaching my feet.
When I was older, I started using slip-on shoes. They worked, but it was always a game of having sizes lose enough to slip my feet in but tight enough that they wouldn't fall off while I was walking! Now I have the best of both worlds: slip-on shoes with elastic laces! I never have to tie them and they are flexible yet tight enough to keep my shoes on my feet.
Assistive devices for dressing with RA
One of the best assistive device tools I have is a dressing stick. I first learned about it in occupational therapy when I was a kid and ever since have always had one at my side.
It does a lot of things for me, but its primary use for a long time has been helping with getting dressed. Since I can't stand well, I put my pants on while sitting and use the stick to help pull them up by hooking them on the fabric or through a belt loop. (It's also very handy for getting socks off, by using another hook to push on sock like a thumb would.)
My dressing stick also helps me to get shirts over my head because my arm motion limits my overhead reach. I put my arms through and then use the hook to push my head through the shirt.
Dressing aids for socks and pulling zippers
For as long as I can remember, socks have always been a struggle. Even when I could reach my feet, I didn't have the strength to hold a sock or pull it hard enough to cover my foot. But there's a handy device that you can put the sock on, then push your foot through. It looks sort of like a u-shaped plastic tube with a rope on it.
Thankfully ingenious people have invented a number of devices to help with dressing. There are zipper pulls to help with zippers (which makes grasping the zip handle easier), as well as buttoners to help with sliding buttons through holes.
How I choose RA-friendly clothing
Over time I have also learned that some clothing styles are also just easier for minimizing dressing difficulties. For example, I do avoid buttons a lot. I don't buy pants with buttons. Instead, I prefer the bar and hook closures because they are easier on my hands. When I do have blouses with buttons, I usually button them up, then put them on like an over-the-head shirt.
I tend to buy knits and clothes that have some give to them. Sometimes they are looser, sometimes they have elastic in them. But having some flexibility in the fabrics makes it easier for me to get dressed.
Unfortunately, I do have a bunch of things I won't wear. I just don't want to work too hard to dress! So I don't do tights or pantyhose. I rarely wear skirts. I don't do tight or complicated. But even with these rules, I don't feel too limited and find I have lots of clothing choices.
RA may make getting dressed complicated, but with my devices and style strategy I do my best to 'make it work'!
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