Dementia and the Fabric of Life

My name is Elaine and I hate jeans.

I’ve always hated jeans. When I was kid, I never wanted to wear jeans when my mom helped me get dressed. She’d remind me all the other kids would be wearing jeans. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to wear jeans. I wanted to wear sweatpants.

Actually, I wanted to wear sweatpants and a jersey. The jersey had to have a number on the back. And this was my uniform through most of my childhood.

Unless my mom made me wear jeans. I’d ask her why I had to dress up. Yes, I considered jeans dressy. Mostly because they were stiff and uncomfortable and I only had to wear them when sweatpants weren’t appropriate.

I hate the texture of denim. It’s not cozy and soft against my skin. It’s just annoying.

I do wear jeans sometimes now, but I still don’t like them. I’m particular about the texture of the denim–some are better than others. But they just aren’t comfortable to me. Why don’t we just make pants out of sandpaper?

I’m not sure my husband has ever actually seen me wear jeans within the walls of our house. I put them on immediately before I leave the house and take them off about 12 seconds after I get home. I know some people might sit on their couches in jeans and watch TV. Just thinking about that makes me cringe.

About a year ago, a woman told me about her husband who has Alzheimer’s and would continually take off his jeans in the house. She’d find him in the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, even on the deck…in his boxer shorts. He’d worn jeans pretty much every day of his life, but now he didn’t seem to want to wear them.

My first thought was, “Well, yeah, because they’re not comfortable against your skin.”

He obviously would agree. His wife noticed he didn’t do this with pajama pants, sweats, or even dress pants. Just jeans.

She asked why. I explained that sometimes people become more sensitive to textiles against their skin when they have dementia. And their preferences for different fabrics and materials may change.

A woman I know in the early stages of dementia bought all new bedding. She couldn’t figure out how she’d slept on those sheets and with that awful comforter previously. They weren’t soothing. They were abrasive. She went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to touch bedding before purchasing. Although her husband couldn’t tell the difference between dozens of bedding sets, she would touch some and grumble. It took her a while to find a texture that appealed to her.

A young man recently told me about his grandfather with Alzheimer’s who decided he hated all the blankets in their house because they were “too heavy.” When they reminded him that he’d used these blankets for years, he seemed confused. There was no way he could’ve ever tolerated those heavy blankets.

A woman who always wore pants doesn’t like having anything pressed against the skin on her legs. She prefers skirts now.

A guy doesn’t enjoy sitting in his recliner anymore. He’s suddenly convinced that the fabric is cheap and scratchy.

Sometimes we think these people are just being difficult. They’re like the Princess and the Pea. They’re too sensitive. Finicky divas.

But those changes in sensitivity to texture are real. And, as dramatic as sounds, they can impact quality of life.

I mean, if I had to sleep in jeans, that would impact my quality of life. Honestly, I can’t even think about it without my contorting my face into some weird expression.

There are a lot of reasons that people with dementia might take their clothes off (and be perceived as “inappropriate”). Sometimes it’s because the fabric is abrasive to them. Someone might throw off all the blankets at night because they’re warm–or because the blankets are “too rough” or “too prickly” or “too heavy.” Maybe a leather recliner doesn’t work anymore because the feeling of the back of your thighs on the leather when you’re wearing shorts is just “too sticky” or “too suction-y.”

As for me, it’s late Friday afternoon and I’m writing at my favorite local coffee shop. I’m wearing jeans and thinking about fabrics has made them even more annoying than usual. I’m going home to put on sweatpants.

True story.

7 thoughts on “Dementia and the Fabric of Life

  1. This was really refreshing to read, thank you for helping so many people that cannot express themselves.


  2. If I could live in pajamas and sweat pants I would.
    This does have anything to do with my Alzheimer’s, I just want to be comfortable and “loose'”. (lol)
    I don’t mind wearing jeans though. At almost 60 I can now wear skinny jeans! lol
    It’s the small victories that have the biggest impact.
    Thanks for this post!!!!


  3. I didn’t connect my husband’s irritation to normal household sounds (my accidentally bumping pots or pans or dishes in the kitchen) and his sudden dislike for a set of sheets I’d used for a couple of years as having anything to do with dementia. Thanks for this … now I understand why.


  4. Fascinating insight. Thank you. Mom is not there yet, and maybe never will. But I’ll understand it better now if she does.


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