Hoarding refers to collecting and putting things away in a guarded manner. Compulsive hoarding is considered a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and in some instances, it is related to memory problems. Dealing with the hoarding behavior of a loved one can be frustrating. Hoarding safe neutral items can be OK as long as the objects and the home are safe. However, hoarding piles of things may be unsafe as it could result in tripping over the piles which could result in a falls and fractures. In addition, hoarding medicines may be dangerous because people may (on a whim) take medicines inappropriately which may result in serious dosing accidents.
Keep in mind that hoarding behavior may occur due to…
- Decreased brain function as persons with dementia may not understand that taking things that belong to others is wrong. If they see something they want, they take it and hoard it away.
- Frontal lobe deficits which may indicate a need for more involvement with activities and exercises that are safer, more time intensive, interesting, and less invasive of others' belongings.
- Inability to remember. They may pick something up and later not remember where they put it or even taking it.
- Need for safety. Persons with Alzheimer's disease may take things because it makes them feel secure.
- The fear that if they don't take things, they won't have them later when they need them. Even if the item seems like something that would never be of any use, they may feel they will need it one day.
Tips for dealing with hoarding behaviors…
- Lock away valuables, such as money and jewelry.
- Check the trash before getting rid of its contents.
- The person with dementia needs to have some safe items of her own such as a pile of books or linen or "recycled mail" but not too much. Make up some "fake" purses or containers filled with items that it is all right for the Alzheimer's person to keep and hoard.
- Identify hiding places. Some common hiding places include: under cushions, in drawers, under beds, in pockets, closets or wardrobes.
- Once you find a hiding place, be sure to check it periodically. Hoarders will often use the same spot.
- Lock up some of the rooms of the house so that the person will have fewer places to hide things and you will have a secure area.
- Get extras of anything you can, such as car keys, eyeglasses and hearing aid batteries.
- Don't "take" things from that they have hoarded - offer to trade them for something else.
- Keep persons busy and involved with activities and/or with others (if they enjoy being with people).
Material adapted from personal communication with Dr. Leilani Doty, Ph.D., University of Florida Memory Disorder Clinic (2007)
Material adapted from Age Matters, “Alzheimer’s Disease at Age-Matters, http://www.age-matters.org/alzheimers_disease.htm#hoarding (2007)