Hiding and hoarding items is usually a natural manifestation of dementia, allowing a loved one a way to hold on to the past while maintaining a sense of security to their present. The more they hoard, the safer they may feel. However, it can become dangerous if too many items clutter a room, making an area unsafe and unclean. It can also become especially problematic for family members and caregivers if important items like keys or pills are taken and hidden away. Here are some things you can do when a loved one with dementia begins hoarding or hiding things.
10. Give Them a Special Drawer
Give your loved one a place like a box or drawer where they can put all of their special items. This accomplishes a few things: first, it may give them a sense of security to have a place where their things will be kept safe. Second, it can narrow down the places to search if your keys go missing. Additionally, people with dementia often like to rummage, and having a special drawer will give them something they can look through should they wish to do so.
9. Reassure Them
It’s likely that a special item will eventually go missing. Your loved one might misplace it or forget when they last had it. If this happens and they become anxious, do your best to reassure them. Remember that this behavior is part of their disease. Acknowledge their emotions and offer your support.
8. Learn Their Hiding Spots
Try to keep yourself apprised of all the various hiding places that your loved one uses. This can help you help them when looking for a lost item. It can also be useful when finding things that belong to others, or rescuing perishable items that your loved one might take out of the refrigerator. However, these are special hiding spots, so be tactful and discreet when it comes to looking through them.
7. Keep Extra Sets of Important Items
A person with dementia sometimes throws things away that shouldn’t be disposed of, or they’ll hide these items in special spots. It may behoove you to get spare sets of such important items like glasses and keys. This way, you don’t have to panic if something important disappears.
6. Don’t Leave Out Important Papers or Documents
Hiding or throwing away items — and then forgetting what they threw away — can be especially distressing if important papers or mail somehow makes it into the trash pile. Do your best to keep important documents, papers, and other necessary items from lying around so they can’t be taken.
5. Use Locator Technology
It might be useful to put a locator or tracking device on some of the more important or easy-to-lose items. Then if they go missing, you can find them more easily. This may be a practical option for your wallet or a set of keys.
4. Lock Up Dangerous Products
Sometimes a person with dementia might get into cleaning products or other toxic items, forgetting that they’re dangerous. Avoid any potentially hazardous situations by keeping these products locked away in a cupboard, or put them in a locked room.
3. Keep an Eye on the Food
It’s possible that a loved one with dementia may look for a snack, find something that has gone bad, and eat something they shouldn’t because they struggle to discern if food has expired. Make sure to regularly remove any expired food items from the refrigerator, and also make sure your loved one isn’t hoarding any food that can go bad in their special hiding spots.
2. Secure Your Trash Cans
As previously mentioned, people with dementia often like to rummage, and they may not be picky when it comes to things to look through. It’s important to either keep your trash cans covered or stored out of sight to prevent a loved one from rummaging through them, or from using them as places to hide or hoard important items. Before emptying or taking out your trash, check it to make sure nothing of value was deposited or thrown away by your loved one.
1. Keep Doors of Empty Rooms Closed
When a room in the home isn’t being used, keep the door closed and possibly even locked to limit the number of potential areas where your loved one can hide items or rummage through things. A locked room can provide you with a safe space to store some of your more important things.
While the hoarding and hiding can become frustrating, it is unfortunately part of your loved one’s disease. In some instances, there may be an underlying cause to why your loved one is rummaging through things. Do your best to find out if they happen to have such a cause for their behavior, and respond accordingly. If all else fails, responding in a gentle and kind manner can go a long way toward reassuring a person with dementia that they’re safe and loved.