If your loved one has always had a reputation as a pack rat or who is someone with a compulsive hoarding habit, you may have noticed their behaviors growing more pronounced and intrusive. Maybe what was once “saving for a rainy day” has become a bit more of a problem. Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease tend to experience an increase in the desire to collect items ranging from the valuable to the sentimental to the downright questionable.
Compulsive hoarding is classified as a psychological disorder that is associated with individuals who possess OCD tendencies. For seniors past a certain age with a history of collecting items or being diagnosed with OCD, aspects of this behavior may increase until it becomes what is known as pathological hoarding. Pathological hoarding occurs when these behaviors begin to seriously impact a person’s life and health.
Individuals who are prone to anxiety may begin to collect and save items of seeming insignificance in response to the aging process making the necessity of accumulated resources more present. As a person’s physical and mental faculties decrease, they may accumulate more items as a psychological defense mechanism to protect against the fear of the end or fear of losing their memories. These actions tend to signify a need for comfort and security in the face of fear and anxiety experienced by many individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Forms of Hoarding for Dementia Patients
Some dementia patients begin by refusing to throw away garbage, causing piles of junk to accumulate throughout the house. Some dementia patients hold onto objects because they remind them of the past, which as memory fades, become the only evidence of the past available for them to grab on to. As Alzheimer’s sufferers lose their grasp on the present, objects become a source of control and connection to reality. These behaviors thus manifest as a result of insecurity, anger, and confusion. In some cases however, hoarding can simply be a result of misplaced items or confusion about where to put certain things. In this case, it is more forgetfulness than feelings of anxiety and stress, for example, piles of mail or a stockpile of unused medications.
Managing Hoarding Behaviors for Seniors With Dementia
No matter how the dementia related hoarding behavior manifests itself, all the scenarios present hazardous living conditions for both seniors and caregivers. For example, a large pile of clothes left on the floor could result in unsanitary living conditions or the increased chance of falling. Forgetting medications can lead to even worse outcomes, with either under or overdosing. Leaving mail unopened can result in unpaid bills. Here are some ways that caregivers can deal with dementia related hoarding behavior in a positive manner.
Be Understanding and Kind
If your senior is living under your roof or is living in an assisted living community, you may happen upon circumstances where hoarding behavior seems evident. Do not use harsh language or belittle your loved one. Try to stay positive and understand that your loved one is not hoarding on purpose, they are simply reacting to the unstoppable loss of brain function that is occurring as a result of the horrible disease of Alzheimer’s. Try to be understanding of their need to control some aspect of their lives and see if you can offer them control in other ways, such as picking out meals for the week, decorating a room, or any activity where they can feel valued and in charge.
When the situation calls for it, you can try and reason through and talk about the necessity of items they may be collecting. See what you can give away, what you can sell, and what can be trashed. If their dementia is not at a seriously debilitating stage, you can work on thinning out the list of items they have. If your senior is accumulating a harmful amount of objects and refuse to reduce it by any amount, then you may need to go through and quietly remove objects bit by bit. This is vital if the senior is beginning to jeopardize their health and well-being due to hoarding.
Provide Alternative Activities
The Alzheimer’s Association suggests that individuals with dementia may require intensive and interesting activities in order reduce harmful behaviors from occurring such as hoarding. This could be anything from reorganizing a closet to sorting beads. Anything that can occupy their mind and keep them engaged and distracted for a time is useful.
One technique that some dementia professionals recommend is creating memory boxes. Memory boxes are a designated place for individuals to place all the special things they would like to keep. This way, items are not scattered indiscriminately and can be confined to label boxes or rooms. You may eventually being to accumulate too many boxes, but in this instance you can always rent a storage locker. At least this way the mess is confined to manageable spaces.
Your loved one may never intend to steal or hide objects from you, but dementia could spur some individuals to smuggle things away and even lock up their own possessions for fear that someone else could nab them. Seniors with eyesight troubles or dementia could forget if they own an object or not, so be sure to keep valuables such as credit cards, jewels, and heirlooms secure.
At Landmark Recovery, we do our best to accommodate the needs of all our residents. Getting the appropriate level of care for senior couples is of the utmost importance for the staff at each one of our senior care facilities. We look forward to working with you to meet the needs of either you or your loved ones.