By Lauren Mahakian Contributing writer. Originally published in Palos Verdes Peninsula News on 9/16/2021
Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs. (as described by the Mayo Clinic).
Hoarding is a common occurrence with those experiencing Alzheimer’s or dementia. They may collect or hide things, even food in drawers with clothes. If you try to get rid of their things, they may get upset and even combative. It may make the home cluttered enough to increase the risks of fires, falls, or disease.
Why do many people with dementia hoard or hide?
Hoarding tends to happen in the early and middle stages of the disease, and may even be a worsening of a lifelong habit. Hiding may be a simple forgetfulness. While there are many reasons for hoarding, it is often a response to
· Insecurity caused by the disease, including fear of lack of control over daily life
· uncertainty of what the future may include
· an attempt to “lock in place”
· isolation, focusing on things rather than interaction with others
· boredom and hoping objects will offer entertainment
· utilizing objects in an attempt to recover vanishing memories
· fear that someone is trying to steal from them
· fear that they may lack food or basic needs in the future
When is it unsafe to hoard and necessary to take action
Considering all the reasons why a person with dementia may feel the need to accumulate things, there are instances when clutter may need to be allowed to provide a sense of comfort. However, unsafe hoarding or hiding will need to be addressed if it puts them or others at risk.
Take action if:
· bathrooms or beds are so cluttered that your loved one can’t use them
· clutter makes it difficult to move around the home and may cause falls or other injury
· paper or other clutter is too close to hot or flame-producing agents such as radiators, stoves, or electrical appliances risking a fire
· the clutter contains sharp objects like knives, forks, or glass
· the clutter or hiding includes garbage or food that can rot and become unhealthy
· food kept is perishable and may cause disease if ingested
· they have more pets than they can manage
How to get rid of a hoarder’s accumulation
If you think your loved one will allow it,
· See if they can decide which things to get rid of
· Try to reorganize the clutter by using bins, cabinets, or drawers with labels so they can find things
· Only take away as much as they’ll let you. Don’t rush them
· If you are able to provide a destination for these items, they may be OK with letting some things go. Offer donating to a charity or giving an item to a family member
· Offer an option to reduce the number of duplicated or similar items saved. For example, ask them to keep only one or two can openers, and one newspaper at a time instead of a month’s worth
· Check for, or install working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
· Get clutter you’re throwing out away from the home as soon as possible, so it can’t be brought back in
Helping a loved one who hides or loses things:
· Try to find out where they put them most often
· Lock closets and cabinets so they have fewer hiding places
· Check the wastebasket before emptying it
· Keep things like cash, jewelry, and important papers in a secure or locked place
· Try to keep two sets of things like glasses, keys, hearing aids, phones, and remote controls in case any of these items get lost.
Keep in mind that people who hoard may resent your attempt to remove items from the home and even have emotional outbursts. If safety is at stake and your loved one gets upset about these changes, try to remove these when they aren’t around. If the situation and risks feel beyond your ability to help, professional help from a qualified practitioner that works with older adults, or a mental health provider may be necessary to be called on.