Hoarding is or may become an issue for some individuals with dementia. It’s one of those behaviors where “some will…some may…some won’t” experience the behavior. Hoarding is characterized by self-neglect, domestic squalor, isolation, indifference to life in general and serious safety issues. It is the excessive accumulation of “things” that are perceived to be important and necessary to the hoarder.
Hoarding tends to surface for individuals as they encounter anxiety about their current situation, what they’ve lost in the past or what they are afraid of losing in the future. The hoarding process is part of their security system and a sense of self preservation.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, face great losses over a period of time. For many of them the independence they had while living alone at home will be stripped from them as they become more forgetful and begin to lose track of items or their own whereabouts. As responsibility for finances and legal matters is transferred to a family member, or home ownership is questioned and cars are sold or given away, patients may begin to hoard as a way of protecting what they do have control of in their lives.
Some individuals begin this trait at earlier ages (in their teens) and it has nothing to do with any form of dementia. However, later in life, the dementia may intensify hoarding for the individual.
For a caregiver who is in a position to assist a hoarder, there are several things to think about. Hoarders have difficulty trusting people because they think family or friends will try to take things away from them. So if it becomes necessary to remove items from the home setting or talk with the hoarder about the situation, it has to be done carefully so the sense of trust is not shattered.
Obviously safety and cleanliness (personal and environmental) are major issues that need to be dealt with right away. Hoarders do save items that they feel they need, and that could include food, garbage, animals, bills or newspapers/magazines…anything that they perceive to be important to them and gives them a sense of security.
As a caregiver, what can you do to assist a hoarder?
- If the hoarder allows, removing items in small quantities may work.
- Removal of items might be able to be done with the hoarder, or it might be necessary to do so when the hoarder is not at home.
- If you are removing items, they should be taken off the property. There is always a possibility that the hoarder will retrieve items if they are left on the curb.
- In some cases it is necessary to remove the individual from the home setting permanently. You may need to consider placement in an assisted living community, dementia memory care unit or nursing home.
- Police and fire departments can be notified. After inspection, they may determine that the home needs to be condemned.
- The SPCA or local animal shelter may need to be contacted if pets need to be collected and removed.
- There are local companies whose primary responsibility is to assist hoarders to “downsize” and also dispose of their belongings. You can find local companies in your area on the internet.
- Depending on the items involved and the physical condition of the home, items such as books may be able to be given away.
- Your state/local agency that deals with elder care abuse could also be of assistance. Check with your state or county office for aging or department of health.
- If you are dealing with a severe hoarder, there is probably little that will be able to be saved within the home.
- Three important steps to remember: KEEP..…DONATE..…DUMP
A hoarder who has dementia has no control over this personality trait. It’s a difficult situation to deal with, but the person’s safety and cleanliness are major factors that need to be looked at when making decisions.
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