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Hoarding and Dementia

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Updated April 04, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What is hoarding?

Hoarding is a behavior that is seen periodically in Alzheimer's and other dementias, such as frontotemporal dementia, where individuals gather up and stockpile things. They might not be willing to part with useless papers, keeping them all piled around furniture. They also might stock up on food and keep it continually until it's rotten, and then still be unwilling to dispose of it.

When in dementia does hoarding occur, and why?

Hoarding tends to happen in the early and middle stages of Alzheimer's disease. Hoarding can sometimes be a response to feeling isolated, in which the focus turns to things instead of interaction with others, or to the loss of control of memory, friends or a meaningful role in life.

You may be familiar with the popular television show "Hoarders," but there is a difference between those individuals and people with dementia. If you have dementia, you are likely hoarding things because of the anxiety of knowing you might lose something, or the presence of things around you might provide you with a sense of comfort. People with Alzheimer's tend to hide the things they hoard, forget where they put them and then accuse others of taking them. This sometimes goes along with delusions that someone is going to steal their belongings.

What items are frequently hoarded?

  • Food
  • Garbage
  • Plastic Bags
  • Old Clothes
  • Papers

Why is hoarding a concern for someone with dementia?

In one sense, if someone is living in their own home, you could argue that they have the right to live the way they want. However, there are some concerns that make addressing hoarding in dementia a necessity at times. Consider intervening in these scenarios:

  • There are multiple tripping hazards in the home because of piles of stuff.
  • Food storage is attracting pests or is unsafe to eat.
  • Lost things become a major source of distress for your loved one.

How can you help someone with Alzheimer's or another dementia who hoards things?

Don't try to clean everything out of your loved one's home. You're better off reorganizing it and clearing paths so that there is a less of a chance of her tripping over the clutter.

If you are removing things, such as rotten food, take it off the premises right away. If you leave it there and just throw it in the garbage can, your loved one might spend much time undoing what you did and taking it all back out.

Don't try to use lots of logic to persuade your loved one to change. This is rarely effective in someone with dementia.

Be compassionate. Understand that the hoarding is a response to the dementia. It's her way to cope with changing memory and confusion, and is not something she can control.

Sources:

Bakker, Rosemary. Weill Medical College of Cornell University Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology. Hoarding and Alzheimer's Disease; One Daughter's Story. Accessed March 28, 2012. www.cornellaging.com/pdf/hoa_alz.pdf

Better Health Channel. Dementia- Changed Behaviors. Accessed March 28, 2012. http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Dementia_changed_behaviours?OpenDocument

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