Hoarding common for those suffering dementia
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By Julie Ann Anderson  January 24, 2014 12:00 am

Many caregivers of people with dementia may find this a familiar scene: opening a drawer or looking under the bed and discovering a large accumulation of odds and ends that don’t belong there. 

The practice of hoarding – the excessive collection of items and an unwillingness to part with them – is not uncommon among dementia sufferers.


Why hoarding?

Caregivers may be mystified as to why their loved ones hoard, and they may be even more mystified at the items they choose to hoard. Dirty clothes or old scraps of food may strike a dementia-free person as odd, but they clearly have some meaning for the person doing the hoarding.

Many professionals agree that this collecting of items is a way of maintaining some form of control. Dementia sufferers are aware that they have lost entire areas of their lives; having a physical collection of items can provide a feeling of comfort.


Is it okay?

In the abstract, hoarding is a fairly harmless behavior. In practice, it can become a problem when the items collected create an unhygienic or physically unsafe situation, or are items that the caregiver or other family members need to make use of.


Managing hoarding

If hoarding is becoming an issue, consult with a doctor about the best way to handle it. Some give and take will likely be necessary on the caregiver’s end; hoarding that has no negative consequences will help the patient feel calmer and safer. It's important to determine which items are appropriate to hoard (and in what manner) and which are inappropriate, and to develop a plan with a doctor to handle these scenarios.

Here are several tips for dealing with hoarding issues:

• Lock away what can be locked away: Secure kitchen cabinets and medicine cabinets. If your keys keep disappearing from your purse and ending up in Grandpa’s closet, lock up the purse or put it in an area that is out of Grandpa’s reach.


• Locate hiding places: A person with dementia may have one place in which he or she hoards items, or he or she may have dozens of such places. Remember that these can range from obvious options, such as drawers and closets, to less obvious ones such as cookie jars, pockets and old tin cans. Caregivers need to do their best to find those places and should check them regularly. Anything that is dangerous, such as medicine or poison, or unhygienic, such as dirty clothes or old food, should be promptly removed.


• Check before using the stove: Mother may have decided to start using the stove as a place to store all that junk mail she doesn't want to throw away. 

My fiancé’s 99-year-old grandmother surprised me while visiting her in Vancouver at her home last summer; I went to put the dishes in the dishwasher only to find that is where she keeps her mail. You just never know where a person will hoard items. Be on the lookout!


• Control the clutter: If Father has decided he prefers his clothes where he can see them, rather than hidden away in the closet, see if it’s possible to find a way to keep the clothes neatly stacked in a corner, rather than strewn randomly about in a pile. Collections of paper in the middle of the bedroom can cause slips and falls.


“Rummaging through cupboards and drawers is something your loved one may do out of boredom. They may feel a sense of loss at times and may react by searching for things. Their confused efforts may demonstrate emotional losses. Your loved one also may be hoarding or hiding his things in an effort to keep his familiar possessions safe. We know that unmet needs may contribute to these actions, so trying to understand the cause behind them will help you deal with the issue,” says Molly Carpenter, author of Home Instead Senior Care’s latest addition to educational books on aging, “Confidence to Care.” More information and resources on this book can be found at www.helpforalzheimersfamilies.com.

Keeping hoarding in check is a delicate balancing act. Sonoma County caregivers should definitely consult with doctors for further strategies in this area. Another wonderful resource we have here in Sonoma County is Diane Judd. She is a professional organizer who specializes in hoarding and working with seniors right here in our own community. Her website, www.dianejudd.com, is how you can connect with her if you are interested in tapping into the valuable resource she is.


Julie Ann Anderson is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park; mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.

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