Hoarding and Dementia- What Every Caregiver Should Know

piles and stacks of old papers, newspapers, magazines and books

If you are helping look after a senior with dementia, then there are all types of new behaviors that you will likely run into. There is no arguing that dementia care comes with certain challenges, and that every senior’s experience with dementia is likely different. However, one of the most unique, and often overlooked side effects of early dementia is actually hoarding behavior. It is a type of behavior that many caregivers are not expecting when they start providing dementia care, but it is one that every caregiver should be aware of.

So, what exactly is hoarding behavior? It is generally described as the excessive tendency to save items that others may view as invaluable, such as keeping all of the boxes from online orders, hundreds of Tupperware containers or even empty egg cartons. The condition is often chronic and progressive. Some seniors may even hoard animals and keep dozens and dozens of pets in their home even if they are unable to care for them.

Many times, the hoarding clutters their living space and prevents seniors from using rooms or areas of their home as they were intended to. It can also prevent seniors from engaging in their normal day-to-day activities or to live their life as normal. Hoarding is unfortunately a very common condition, but this disorder is even more complex in individuals who have dementia. Seniors with dementia are not only more likely to start developing hoarding tendencies, but it can get worse due to the confusion, memory loss, impaired judgement and disorientation that seniors face with this condition.

Typically, hoarding starts developing in the early or middles stages of this disease and is a side effect of dementia that is often associated with a loss of control. Some seniors may feel as though hoarding helps them reestablish control or security in their lives, or others may simple feel it provides comfort in a time of insecurity. If you are looking after a senior who tends to engage in hoarding behaviors, here are a few ways you can help mitigate the situation.

  • Only remove items that impact the senior’s safe and health. Removing all items from the home can provide more stress and make the situation worse.
  • Try to negotiate. If they have two years of old newspapers in their home, consider switching it out for a month of newspapers.
  • Be patient. Hoarding can be a difficult habit to break, especially in those with dementia.
  • If your loved one agrees to de-clutter, start slow with just a box at a time. You can also give them a positive reason to get rid of certain items—such as being able to donate them to charity.
  • Be prepared for your loved one to seem unreasonably attached to their items. It may seem like 100 old baskets to you, but the senior may feel very attached to those baskets.

While no one ever wants their senior loved one’s to deal with something as difficult and all-consuming as hoarding, it is an unfortunate side effect of dementia and one that every caregiver should be aware of.

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