Are you a caregiver for someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? Are you finding things they’ve hoarded and stored around the house?
Hoarding is not unusual for people suffering with Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is a behaviour that will be exhibited throughout the progression of the disease and occurs for a number of observed reasons.
People suffering from Alzheimer’s have delusions and are often confused. One of the most common fears expressed by those in early stage Alzheimer’s is the fear of being robbed.
Hoarding in this case is not as some expect an obsessive-compulsive behaviour but one that is rooted in a common delusion shown by almost all Alzheimer’s patients. They hide things rather than hoard them to protect them from being taken.
As a caregiver you should know where to look when things go missing. Check under the bed, pillows and bedclothes. You may also want to check any closets, drawers or boxes that are in areas the Alzheimer’s patient may think are “safe” hiding places. Other places such as purses, bags and hampers are also great places to “hoard” things and protect them from being stolen. It is even likely items will end up under the mattress, in sugar bowls, coffee cans or in shoes.
Understanding this “hoarding” behaviour stems from a real fear that Alzheimer’s patients exhibit is the first step. Locating all the common hiding places is the second and will make your life easier as a caregiver.
When a loved one becomes confused or unable to find something, you can assist by pointing out places they can look.
This hoarding behaviour also stems from the regression memory. Alzheimer’s patients may associate something with a safe time in their younger life. Given many people with this disease tend to recall early memories they associate safety with a particular item they have a happy memory about.
It will then not be uncommon to see people suffering from Alzheimer’s collecting one type of food item or having a favourite toy. Being in possession of these familiar and safe items make them feel safe. Once they hide or place the item somewhere they are unable to locate it again simply because Alzheimer’s affects short term memory so they must acquire the item again to restore the feeling of safety.
To help you as a caregiver cope with this hoarding behaviour you will have to take measures to keep the environment occupied by the Alzheimer’s patient simple and orderly. Remove unnecessary clutter and identify items that bestows safe feelings for your patient.
Replace items that commonly go missing with ones made of bright colours. This will allow you to easily locate hiding places and make the items easier to locate should they go missing.
However you should be careful not to remove items that can add to the agitation of the Alzheimer’s patient. What may appear as something insignificant for you as a caregiver can cause a major incident when initially discovered by the patient.
Once you have made the decision to remove certain items remove them from their residence immediately. This will prevent them from discovering these items later as they rummage searching for something “safe” and will also help minimize the overall hoarding that occurs.
Should an episode result from removing certain items, be there to support the patient and help them locate another “safe” item.
Once you as a caregiver accept that hoarding by Alzheimer’s patients is a normal behaviour, you can easily plan for and cope with surprises that you may find as you discover their hiding places.