Recognizing The Hoarding Habits Of People With Dementia



At a certain age in life, the “little things” can start to add up to be not so “little” any longer. Dementia, or Alzheimer’s and other memory loss issues, can start to make daily life and tasks more difficult. One of the earliest signs of dementia is the need to hoard, or let pile up, things that aren’t necessarily needed. Some warning signs, like not letting go of useless piles of paper, rubbish, and stockpiling objects on top of furniture are not to be taken lightly.

The people who suffer from dementia are unwilling to let go of old foods, sometimes even past the spoilage dates, in fear that they cannot be replaced. The behaviors like constant rummaging through belongings, anxiety from fear of losing things, and forgetting where things are can be very hard to deal with, for the person suffering with the disease to the caregivers. Things can be lost or misplaced very easily, and forgotten. Frustrating episodes, yelling, arguing and unwillingness to help figure out what is happening can only add to the stress. People who suffer from dementia tend to hide the things that they hoard, and accuse people around them of stealing because they have forgotten where things were. The impulse control becomes worse as time goes on, and a person who once simply collected things they like may spiral out of control and fill a roomful of the same objects.

How can we help people with dementia deal with these sorts of issues? There is no one correct way, but by providing a structured, predictable environment helps to ease the anxiety. Becoming anxious is easily triggered by an unorganized daily schedule, and home full of hoarded objects. Trying to clean up all of the messes may seem helpful, but doing it all at once could make the behaviors become worse. Cleaning up little areas discreetly at first is easiest. Making a path where people can’t trip over things and become injured is first priority, along with garbage and spoiled foods. Having a special place for the hoarded objects to be put, like a drawer or sturdy bin can help keep things a bit more organized. Having compassion and understanding, patience and willingness to work with a person suffering from dementia makes all the difference.

The 5 R’s of psychology are a good set of tools for caregivers, friends and family members to use when times become difficult. Separating emotional impact of behavioral issues is easier when remembering to use the 5 R’s:


  1. Remain Calm- Getting upset or frustrated will not help the situation. Instead, staying calm, and dealing with the behavior while calm is the first thing to do.


  1. Respond To Feelings- Give validation to their feelings and encourage them to feel better, taking away any anger or sadness caused by behavior problems.


  1. Reassurance- Always reassuring that love is there and they are cared for helps to remind, and make them feel more secure.


  1. Remove- If the situation isn’t improving, remove yourself from it to regain composure. Being upset won’t help them out, so get control and walk away for a minute to breathe and think more clearly.


  1. Return- Returning to the situation after calming down is a great way to begin healing, reassuring them that everything is going to be okay, and working out the issue isn’t a big deal.

Responding to the erratic behavior the right way can take time to learn. Keeping calm, responding to emotions, giving reassurance and lots of love all help to ease anxiety. Giving time, patience and a little organizing helps to maintain sanity when life seems difficult.


The Manse on Marsh


475 Marsh St.


San Luis Obispo, CA 93401


(805) 541-4222