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How to Deal with Hoarding, Hiding or Collecting

Does an elderly loved one have dementia? Is that person hoarding, hiding, collecting and shredding things? These are common behaviors among people who are living with dementia. These behaviors, like many others, can be very distressing, frustrating, and upsetting to family members and caregivers.

How should you deal with this? The first step is to gain some perspective by asking a few questions.

• Is this behavior risky?

• Is it dangerous?

• Is it really a problem?

• Is it a problem to anyone else?

• Do I just not like it?

• What will happen if I let it go on?

In other words, are you making a mountain out of a molehill?

Is it your loved one's behavior that needs to change? Or is it your attitude that needs the adjustment?

It could be that you don't like the behavior because it represents a change in your loved one. They are different than they used to be before they developed dementia. It can be difficult to accept the many changes that occur when a loved one has dementia. It will however, help both you and the person with dementia if you can learn to live with and accept the new behavior. In most cases, you will have no power to change it.

The stress you feel comes from wanting something to be different than how it is. What would happen if you got curious about the behavior and worked with the person rather than against them?

Almost all behaviors in dementia have meaning, and that meaning is often related to an unmet need. For the person living with dementia who is hoarding or hiding items, the unmet need may be to gain a sense of control over their life. A person who is shredding tissue may need something to do with their hands. A person may collect objects because they have always been a collector and they gain satisfaction from the accumulation of stuff.

Try this tips to cope with the situation:

  • If the person wants to shred paper towel or tissues, buy the least expensive brand and be happy that this activity gives them joy.

  • Give the person a reason to collect. Find a local school or community group that collects bottles and start a bottle recycling program at home.

  • Turn the collection into a daily project for the person to manage. Ask them to wash, sort and count the bottles as an afternoon activity.

  • Create a space that belongs to them where they can keep their trinkets and items of interest, and rummage through them.

  • Keep a second set of valuables like keys, glasses and wallets so that if one set disappears, you will have another set to replace it with.

  • Find their hiding places. When the person loses something, reassure them that you will help them to find it rather than scolding them for losing it in the first place.

  • If they are hoarding something that they shouldn’t like food, dispose of the old food when they’re not around and replace it with fresh food.

Try to remember that these behaviors are caused by the dementia, and that the person is not trying to frustrate you or make life difficult for you. In many cases, the behavior is harmless and not risky to either yourself or the person with dementia. Be patient, keep your sense of humor and practice the art of letting go!

Do you have questions about the care of an older loved one? We can help. Just give us a call at (402) 426-8877.

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