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Why Won't Mom Change Her Clothes?



"I am so worried about my mother. Now in her 80s, she no longer wants to change her clothes. She truly wears the same thing, day after day.

If Mom spills on her clothing, she just shrugs it off like it doesn’t matter. Every time I stop over, she’s wearing food, literally. Before I take her somewhere, I need to do an inspection, or I’m taking her out looking like a child that has no one to look after them. 

Mom almost always says it’s not necessary to change her clothing, even when soiled. She doesn’t care how it looks.

She was always reasonably dressed and put together in the past. It seems that the older she gets, the less she cares. What are your thoughts on attire and how I should handle it with Mom?"



It is so nice that you’re caring for and about your mother. As you well know, in our society we do not walk about with our lunch on our shirts. In fact, as soon as we spill, we try to wipe it off. That is the typical response, anyway.

With small children and older adults, the clean clothes rule is less important. If an older adult lives alone with nothing to dress for, they may simply continue to wear the same clothing, stains and all. And even if they do have something to dress for, they may just not care like they did when they were younger. They believe they have nothing to prove, so why care about appearance? Why care what anyone else thinks?

But then, you must consider health reasons for this. Your mom may not change clothes if it has become a physical challenge for her to do so. If it’s a painful task, she probably wants to do it as little as possible. Maybe she isn’t alert to just how bad her clothes look, and doesn’t want to admit a potential vision problem.

For the short term, simply point out stains and other issues, and offer to get a substitute shirt before you go out. If necessary, get the shirt for her and help her swap it out. 

Do make sure that your mother has an annual eye exam and medical evaluation. Look for signs of depression, too, such as lack of interest in activities, poor sleeping, appetite changes, or sadness. While a few stains here or there are nothing to worry about, you’re wise to pay attention to changes in your mom. We all need someone to advocate for us as we age, and it sounds like you are doing that for her.