Understanding Alzheimer's Behaviors
According to the Alzheimer's Association, hoarding and hiding behaviors usually begin in the early to middle stages of the disease, and "often stem from trying to have some control in their lives."
Rummaging, meanwhile, may occur when an individual with Alzheimer's disease believes something has gone missing.
More specifically, the Alzheimer's Association identifies a few possible causes -- psychological, medical and environmental -- for rummaging, hiding, and hoarding, including:
- Physical changes within the brain leading to confusion, memory loss and impaired judgment
- Loss of control
- The desire for a sense of security or feeling that they may "need" something
- Seeing and touching things gives them comfort
- Fear of losing items or being robbed
- Inability to distinguish between things that should be thrown away or kept
- Boredom, lack of stimulation, and difficulty initiating new activities
How Caregivers Can Help
Not only is it neither practical nor possible to remove all clutter from your environment, it's also not always beneficial to individuals with Alzheimer's. Why not? Because these activities can actually help them feel safe and more secure. Additionally, people with Alzheimer's may become emotionally attached to certain items -- even ones which appear to be worthless to others. So what can you do? Start with these seven tips.
1. Put safety first.
Removing fire hazards and poisonous materials, such as cleaning fluids, glue, and medications, is a must-do, as is clearing clutter away from walkways, heating sources, and stairs. Additionally, everything from dangerous items to valuables should be stored in a safe, locked location.
2. Control clutter.
Organize remaining clutter in large baskets and bins. This is also an opportune time to reduce what's coming into the home. Visit DMA Choice, Catalog Choice, and OptOutPrescreen to stop the accumulation of junk mail.
3. Plan ahead.
You may not be able to prevent all dementia-related behaviors, but you can plan ahead for the an event that may occur and head off potential headaches. Have duplicate copies made of commonly misplaced or hidden items, such as hearing aids, glasses, cell phones, remote controls, etc. Be aware of the common hiding places, and consider attaching wireless trackers to frequently misplaced items.
If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.
4. Be prepared to negotiate.
From assuring them that an object will go to a good home to making reasonable trades, involving a person with Alzheimer's disease in the process of parting with an item can help them maintain a sense of control.
5. Immediately remove all items to be discarded.
Once you do decide to get rid of items, discard them immediately. Otherwise, your aging loved one may rummage through the garbage for it and return it to the living environment.
6. Make them part of the process.
Creative approaches -- from photographing items to giving them the chance to say goodbye -- can help ease the separation process. Another way to help Alzheimer's sufferers feel okay about parting with cherished belongings is to ask them to help you de-clutter. Start small -- one box at a time -- and work slowly.
7. Provide opportunities for rummaging.
If rummaging makes your aging loved one feel good, why restrict it entirely? Instead, provide opportunities for the individual to rummage by offering easy access to safe items, such as jewelry boxes, sock drawers, etc. If your aging loved one likes organizing things, meanwhile, encouraging them to sort as they rummage can actually help you while fulfilling their desire to be productive.
One last thing to keep in mind. Behaviors that seem futile to you may be coping mechanisms for people with Alzheimer's disease. Understanding why these activities occur can help caregivers tailor responses which best-supporting quality of life for their aging loved ones.
mmLearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmLearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. Access our free online caregiver support videos today.