If you live in the Bay Area and have a loved one with dementia, you know the challenges can be overwhelming. Many seniors have possessions they consider precious or that bring back good memories, however sometimes it can cross the line and become something more serious – hoarding. For those with dementia, this isn’t an uncommon behavior, but what can you do to help?
First let’s define hoarding. The American Psychiatric Association defines the disorder as saving items that are essentially of no use or are worthless to the point that it becomes disruptive clutter in a person’s living space. If a room is so packed with clutter, worthless items and other things that make the room unusable for its intended purpose, it may be a hoarding behavior. Many seniors who hoard, regardless of whether they have dementia, hesitate to throw anything away – whether the daily newspaper, a broken hammer, or plastic shopping bags they may “need” at some point in the future.
Hoarding items may be a symptom of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, who says hiding or rummaging through closets, drawers, boxes, or other spaces is also common. This behavior is often the result of mental confusion, memory loss, or impaired judgment/disorientation. In the early or middle stages of dementia, seniors often experience a loss of control over their lives, which is when hoarding behaviors may begin.
How can you help? If your aging loved one has hoarding tendencies, you can help clear out the clutter, but it’s important that you don’t start discarding your loved one’s items without warning, and that you are supportive and calm as you try to manage the behavior.
Here are a few suggestions from the Alzheimer’s Association:
- Let your loved one sort through a small amount at a time (such as one box) if he or she agrees to de-clutter
- Explain to your senior why parting with certain items is a good idea – for example, donating it to a family member who needs it, the church, a charity, etc.
- Use a little creativity. Many seniors with dementia are satisfied by simply having photos of the things you clear out
- Use your negotiating skills. For instance, if your loved one has foods in the cupboard that have expired, trade it for fresh goods
- Begin your de-cluttering efforts slowly, and be ready if your senior becomes agitated about the process by having activities ready to distract him/her for a few minutes
- Have patience. Even when you view the items being hoarded as worthless trash, your loved one may want to say goodbye
- You don’t have to toss every item in the home you view as worthless. Take out only those things that may create a health or safety hazard
Always keep in mind that seniors with dementia don’t view things in the same light as you do. Some possessions may help a senior cope, although in your opinion it is nothing but junk. Be empathetic, and consider if there is any harm in allowing your loved one to keep certain items.
Care Indeed provides dementia and Alzheimer’s care to those in Palo Alto, San Jose, and throughout the Bay Area. We offer a wide range of elder care services with caregivers who are compassionate, trustworthy, and dedicated to improving the lives of seniors.