Your husband’s out in the living room watching TV, and you’re busy pushing through your chore checklist. In his advancing stages of dementia, it’s been increasingly necessary for you to plan and perform daily tasks. You’re about to put away his laundry and you stumble across one of the most common Alzheimer’s and dementia behaviors: collecting and hiding objects.
You’re taken aback as you open his top dresser drawer. You count no fewer than a dozen forks. “So that’s where those went,” you say to yourself, poking through some clothes to also find a moldy, half-eaten PB&J sandwich. As if his ever-growing stack of newspapers weren’t enough, it seems your hubby has actually begun stashing things away — for reasons that aren’t exactly clear.
Like any other behavior associated with Alzheimer’s disease and/or other types of dementia, it’s often helpful to understand the underlying reason(s) to begin planning and enacting solutions.
Collecting & Hiding Objects Among Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors
So let’s discuss a few of the most common reasons for hiding away objects. Some would go so far as to refer to severe cases as “hoarding,” but emphasis on person-focused care language in recent years has us steer clear of such negative connotations. It’s a common Alzheimer’s and dementia behavior — and, yes, it can be problematic or even sometimes dangerous — but it’s more helpful to first assess the “why” to develop the most positive and proactive plan possible moving forward.
1. Collection Hobbies
Many people develop and nurture hobbies throughout their adult lives. It’s quite enriching and fulfilling to find something all your own. Did your loved one have a collection hobby earlier in life? Perhaps they collected stamps from around the world, Little League championship pins, or celebrity cookbooks.
As many forms of dementia progress, these activities may become lost to memory, yet the itch remains to gather things for their enjoyment. Especially in middle-to-late stages, when losses in memory and cognition become most severe, your loved one’s collecting habit may lack logical reasoning. (Who would want a dresser drawer full of forks?) But always remember, it makes sense (in whatever way) for the person living with dementia.
2. Previous Occupations
On a similar note, long-engrained activities and habits gained during years in the workforce may sneak into your loved one’s collection habits. Perhaps you notice they have an inordinate amount of pens and pencils stashed in a nightstand, purse or briefcase. Might a longtime desk job compel them to seek office supplies for use later? Maybe they’re gathering cooking utensils, sugar packets, or salt and pepper shakers? Might they have worked in a restaurant or school cafeteria earlier in life?
Again, persons living with dementia may not even realize they’re doing it. But the activity makes sense for whatever “work tasks” they feel upcoming.
3. Forgetfulness & Confusion
OK, admittedly, we often say that dementia is so much more than memory loss alone. That’s true. But memory loss is at the heart of most dementia diagnoses.
Your loved one may take objects around the home (or from elsewhere) and place them somewhere, only to forget they had them in the first place. Or while picking up a common household item in a state of confusion, they may lose track of its rightful place. So you may find a bath towel stuffed under a couch cushion or a television remote in a medicine cabinet.
4. Delusions, Hallucinations & Paranoia
Many persons living with dementia experience wild hallucinations and delusions as the neurons in their brains disconnect and malfunction increasingly with time. They see people and things that aren’t there — sometimes manifestations of their worst fears or bad experiences.
Paranoia tends to increase as an individual no longer recognizes the people around them — whether they be medical professionals in an assisted-living facility or even their own family and friends. Your loved one may distrust anyone around them, believing that “strangers” would steal their “valuables” or prevent them from eating meals. This self-preservation instinct may explain why you would find spoiled food hidden away and forgotten in a drawer or under their bed.
Uncovering Reasons Behind Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors Like Collecting & Hiding Objects
The effects of dementia disorders may seem unpredictable and haphazard. As my life partner/care partner Brian (who lives with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia) and I often say, “If you know one person with dementia, you know one person with dementia.” Indeed, symptoms and behaviors often vary greatly among persons living with dementia, even those with similar diagnoses.
But no matter your loved one’s Alzheimer’s- or dementia-related behaviors, it’s helpful to understand the reasons behind them. Care-partner teams must develop a plan to control the loss of items and mitigate “hoarding risks” like fire and health hazards. To do so, you must understand and appreciate your loved one’s present and past experiences.
#WeAreDementiaStrong. If you need help, Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC has over 25 years of experience with all aspects of life-care planning including dementia care. We’re happy to provide referrals and guide the process in a caring and compassionate way.