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Working with and not against the need to hide and hoard

01 March 2009
Bonnie Sandler, S.W., The Senior Times - March 2009

A common behaviour of individuals with Alzheimer’s is to hide or hoard items. Sometimes there is a history of collecting beautiful or valuable objects, like my Swarovski crystals and mini teapot collections. The problem is that memory impairment prevents the affected person from locating the hidden items. You are fortunate if your loved one has a special hiding place. In this instance, you may be able to find the missing keys. But many times there is no such special place and finding keys, watches, and dentures is a difficult if not impossible task. Trying to find hidden car keys when you are late for an appointment can push an already stressed caregiver over the edge. There are a few ways to help deal with this behaviour. First, declutter your home. There are fewer hiding places and items will be easier to find in a clean, organized home.

Second, hide valuables in a locked drawer. This includes jewellery and documents. Make a second set of keys and keep them in the locked storage place. Dentures and eyeglasses are difficult since they are necessary for daily living. Reading glasses could be bought in dollar stores but full prescription glasses and dentures are costly to replace. Many caregivers have found objects in the garbage, fortunately before they were thrown down the chute. Make a habit of checking garbage bags. Not a fun activity, but it could save you hundreds of dollars if you locate missing dentures.

Just because someone has Alzheimer’s does not mean that they will not enjoy wearing their jewellery as before. But what do you do if her diamond pin, handed down from her mother, is at risk of being lost? Some families have copies made of irreplaceable or valuable jewellery, allowing their loved one to continue wearing familiar and meaningful pieces. Shopping for new costume jewellery can be a fun activity as well as solving the problem of lost valuables.

If your loved one has a special hiding spot it is not necessary to empty it out completely. Take out what you need, but leave some items behind. Your loved one will continue to hide items there, but at least you will know where to look when something goes missing. This hiding and hoarding behaviour is common in nursing facilities. Staff is sensitive to this problem and is on alert to notice objects that may seem out of place. Report what is missing. You may notice your loved one sporting a bright red sweater you recognize as not belonging to them. Perhaps it seems odd to you, since red was not a favoured colour. At the same time you may see another resident clutching the decorative pillow from your family member’s bed. If neither patient is disturbed by this, try not to react negatively. You are dealing with many challenges; let this one go.

One daughter, who saw her mother in a different sweater each time she visited, found humour in the situation. Her mother had always been fashion conscious and her daughter felt that her mother was enjoying finding new clothes to wear. She would tell her mother how lovely she looked in her new sweater and felt comfort seeing the smile on her mother’s face.

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Bonnie Sandler

Residential Real Estate Broker, Housing Consultant for Seniors

514 497-3775