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Dementia is a difficult disease that changes lives and can impact quality of life significantly. As a result of the confusion and stress from managing the disease, individuals often look for coping mechanisms to self soothe. Hoarding is a very common one.

5 Tips for Managing Dementia and Hoarding

Hoarding can quickly get out of hand as the individual struggles to throw anything away at all. You will likely find all kinds of stacks of things along the walls, covering tables and chairs, and anywhere else they choose.You’ll see empty ice cream cartons, plastic fountain drink lids, and empty chip bags, among other things. It’s good to prepare yourself in advance so you can give them the best care possible. Get started with the following tips:

Helpful Tip 1: Approach the situation with understanding, patience, and compassion.

Knowing that this behavior may be a result of anxiety and coping with the uncertainty and stress of the disease will provide a space for you to approach your loved one with non-judgment. Many items that are hoarded represent security, control, and comfort for these individuals. A little bit of understanding goes a long way.

Helpful Tip 2: Make it a team effort.

These items generally have an emotional attachment to them so it’s not as simple as just throwing them away. This approach often backfires as the individual with dementia often doesn’t understand and may get angry or frustrated. Instead, make them feel you are a team.

Discuss the removal of the items, explaining where you can take them. If they are still usable, talk about donating them to a charity or church. If there are various educational items, explain how a shelter or school could use them.

Negotiation is another way to include your loved one in the removal process. Allow only a set number of items, or only a specific area of the house where they can hold their belongings. If they begin to exceed the number of items or space, they have to remove some items or refrain from collecting new ones.  

Helpful Tip 3: The De-cluttering Process

Be patient. This person has a sentimental value of each item that they have collected. In some instances, they may have been collecting items for years. It will take them some time to develop the resolve to let these things go. Give them time to say goodbye, and allow them the emotional space for letting go.

Prepare yourself for the reactions that they may have. It may be helpful to involve other family members or a social worker to assist. If the individual agrees to assist in the removal process, give them one box or bag to sort through at a time to prevent overwhelm and take breaks frequently.

Helpful Tip 4: Remove Immediately

When finished sorting and decluttering, it’s very important to discard the items immediately. This prevents any temptation or desire from your loved one to rummage through the discarded piles looking for items to keep. Have a set location where you will take the discarded items and proceed to remove them from their living area.

Helpful Tip 5: Maintain progress

Your loved one will likely experience a variety of emotions dealing with the loss of their items. It can be very comforting to provide new activities to stimulate their mind and distract them from their loss. Light exercise such as walks, or assisting them in their interests can help alleviate their anxiety and promote the sustained effort to refrain from collecting.  

Where Love and Safety Meet

Dementia can be a frightening and confusing disease to live with for both the individual experiencing it and their families. In all cases, safety is of the highest priority. Behaviors such as hoarding can quickly and easily threaten the safety and comfort of your loved one’s life and those that may live with them. With these tips, you can approach the situation with care and compassion to help create the quality of life your loved one deserves.

For more information on caring for a family member with dementia or for a tour of one of our assisted living or memory care cottages, Contact Us

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