OBJECTIVE. Dressing is an important activity of daily living, yet many older adults have difficulty due to impairments. The purpose of this study was to explore the use of assistive devices for dressing by older persons with impairments, and to look at differences among frail elders with no dressing difficulty, upper-extremity-only dressing difficulty, lower-extremity-only dressing difficulty, and both upper- and lower-extremity dressing difficulty.

METHOD. We conducted in-home interviews and functional assessments with 1,101 elderly persons with activities of daily living and/or instrumental activities of daily living limitations in Western New York and Northern Florida. Participants were assigned to one of four groups based on Functional Independence Measure™ item scores for upper-extremity dressing and lower-extremity dressing. Descriptive statistics were used to report results.

RESULTS. Compared to women, there were relatively more men with lower-extremity dressing difficulty than with upper-extremity dressing difficulty. The group with both upper- and lower-extremity dressing difficulty reported the highest level of pain and scored lowest on all measures of functional status and mental status. The most commonly used dressing devices were associated with lower-extremity dressing.

CONCLUSION. There are differences in gender, health status, functional status, and mental status among elderly persons grouped by upper- or lower-extremity dressing difficulty. Results suggest that therapists should consider such differences as gender and type of difficulty (upper- or lower-extremity dressing) in both therapeutic approaches and recommendations for assistive devices. Pain is another important consideration, but it can often be reduced during dressing by using assistive devices.

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