Clothing Nursing Home

Clothing and Communication

Fleece CardiganEvery day when I visit my dad, I’m reminded again that even something as simple as clothing can be a means of stimulating communication in a nursing home. One resident in my dad’s nursing home is always dressed head-to-toe in coordinating fleece or velour. Though the clothing is simple, the pants elastic-waisted, and the jackets large-buttoned, she somehow always looks, well, elegant.

I suspect that ‘Anna’ dressed carefully before she came to the nursing home, and her family has made sure that she still meets those high standards. There’s nothing faded or tired or defeated about ‘Anna’s’ appearance; the colors she wears invite smiles the way flowers do in spring. ‘Anna’ has difficulty speaking, but she knows that I’ll be smiling as soon as I spot her, and she beams right back. It’s something we both expect now.

Smiles are terrific, but ‘Anna’s’ elegance has a quirky twist — on her feet, virtually every day, are a pair of cozy, and rather goofy, socks. Some days they are just bright stripes — always coordinated with her clothes — and some days they have a theme — bears, or dogs, or a holiday symbol or something of the sort.

You could, quite naturally, tell ‘Anna’ every day that she looks nice — it would be true, but repetitive. However, the socks aren’t anything you can let slide — they demand some kind of specific comment. When I come around the corner, we’re both smiling, but I rarely pass ‘Anna’ without stopping to say something about her socks. I just can’t help it; I have to stop and talk with her for just a few minutes. Clothing, it seems, isn’t always just a question of comfort — sometimes it’s an invitation to interaction. ‘Anna’ can’t easily initiate a conversation, but her socks can — and do.

I suspect that some of ‘Anna’s’ jackets come from L. L. Bean, since they look suspiciously like a favorite style of mine — Bean’s Comfort Fleece cardigan. It’s made with princess seaming, has pockets, big buttons, a little bit of stretch, no weight at all, and is incredibly durable. (I have two and wish I had a dozen.) Couple it with fleece or knit pants, and you really could live in pajama-like comfort while feeling smart and fashionable. Bean doesn’t have ‘Anna’s’ terrific socks, though. You’re on your own for those.