wife comforting husband with dementiaDementia causes memory changes that can manifest as forgetfulness, a lack of impulse control and not remembering key details or familiar places. As such, someone developing these symptoms often loses or misplaces objects and may begin to hide items, accuse others of stealing or hoard in response.

Learn more about these behaviors and what you can do to help your loved one.

Relationship Between Forgetfulness, Hiding & Hoarding

During early or mid-stage dementia, your loved one may begin to forget information they could easily retrieve. In addition to not remembering names, directions or where they are, they may put items in illogical places – like placing keys in the fridge or food in the laundry basket – and forget where they left these objects.

This behavioral change can have a rippling effect on how they manage their belongings and personal space. They may:

  • Be unable to leave the house because they can’t find an essential item.
  • Believe people are stealing from them and begin to hold onto items.
  • Hide items, then forget where they are.
  • Start stockpiling items in the house to prevent someone from stealing them or to prepare for various “what if?” scenarios.

Hoarding is not solely a cognitive concern and may begin to impact your loved one’s health and safety. Stemming from this development:

  • Your loved one can lose trust in their friends, family members and neighbors, which affects their interpersonal relationships and support system.
  • A lack of connection can transform into isolation.
  • Your loved one begins to accumulate a large number of objects that they won’t give away. Hoarding may increase as impulse control declines.
  • Compulsive hoarding can mean that piles and stacks of objects clutter common areas, potentially trapping your loved one in their home.
  • Your loved one may begin to hold onto objects regardless of their state. This can result in piles of rotting garbage throughout their home.
  • Hoarding can also extend to animals – for example, taking in stray cats or dogs.
  • Collectively, this combination can drain your loved one’s finances, expose them to mold and impede their ability to leave home.

What You Can Do

Rather than throwing away your loved one’s items, which can intensify their hiding or hoarding behavior, take action where clutter is creating a fall, trip or fire hazard.

Additionally, work with your loved one to manage this impulse on a holistic level:

  • Ensure common, everyday items are always left in the same spot and easy to access.
  • Have extra inventory of these essentials and consider GPS tracking for select items.
  • Create an organizational system for their home, including appointment reminders, labels or visual cues for where to place objects.
  • Get in the habit of cleaning up before cluttered objects become trip hazards.
  • Talk about donating items, rather than just taking something away.
  • Check expiration dates on food and restock the refrigerator with new items.
  • Don’t keep items in the trash, as your loved one may go there to retrieve them.
  • Don’t declutter the entire home at once. Go through rooms and piles in stages, organizing and sorting items.
  • Stay on top of your loved one’s finances, especially any extra purchases for hobbies or pets. Consider restricting access to catalogs, ecommerce and shopping channels.
  • Place important documents in locked drawers, so they cannot be misplaced.

Are you concerned about losing, hiding or hoarding behaviors in a loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease? West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center can help them manage these habits in a safe, controlled environment monitored by trained professionals. To learn more, contact us today.