Hoarding and Dementia: Is There a Connection? Insights and Practical Advice

    hoarding and dementia

    Hoarding can really affect people and their families. It can make relationships harder, cause a lot of stress, and even make homes unsafe. Hoarding means keeping too many things, even if they’re not valuable, and finding it hard to throw anything away. This can happen for many reasons, like feeling really anxious, having bad experiences, or just wanting to feel in control. An article in the Psychiatric Times talks about how tough hoarding can be for families, making home life really stressful and sometimes chaotic.

    Older people tend to hoard more, and studies show it might be linked to problems with thinking and memory, like dementia. For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shared a study about how hoarding behaviors can start as people get older, especially if they’re dealing with feeling lonely, losing friends or family, or their health getting worse. Hoarding might be a way for them to cope with these changes.

    How Dementia and Hoarding Might Be Linked

    Can hoarding be a sign of dementia? Not everyone who keeps too many things has dementia, but there’s a clear link between hoarding and dementia, especially in the early to middle stages. Older people and those with dementia might start collecting or hiding things for a few reasons:

    • Feeling Anxious: They might feel worried or scared and hoard things to feel better.
    • Forgetting Things (Memory Loss): They may forget they already have something and keep buying or saving the same things over and over.
    • Thinking Things Aren’t Right (Delusional Thinking): Sometimes, they believe something is happening that isn’t, like thinking someone will steal their things, so they hide them.

    What People with Dementia Often Keep, Hide, or Collect

    People with dementia sometimes keep, hide, or collect things for different reasons. Knowing what kinds of items they’re drawn to can help us understand them better. Here’s a simple look at what they might collect and why:

    • Things That Remind Them of Good Times: This includes photos, letters, or small keepsakes. These items can make them feel happy and connected to their loved ones.
    • Common Items: Things like forks, towels, or soap might be collected. They might worry about not having enough of these, or they might think these items are special.
    • Food: Keeping extra food is also common. They might do this because they’re worried about not having enough to eat later, or they might forget they already bought some.
    • Clothes: Sometimes, they gather lots of clothes, maybe all the same kind or color. This could be because they forget what they have, they have trouble choosing, or they just like how these clothes feel.
    • Things Most People Throw Away: They might even keep things like old newspapers, used napkins, or broken stuff. They might think these things are still useful or can’t tell if they’re valuable or not.
    • Money and Valuables: Hiding money or jewelry is something they might do if they’re afraid someone will take it. Even if they’re in a safe place, they might feel scared and want to hide important things.

    Hoarding for these reasons can cause a lot of problems. It’s not just about having too much stuff. It can make the home unsafe, make the person with dementia feel upset or stressed, and be really hard for the people taking care of them.

    Helping Someone with Dementia Who Hoards: What Can We Do?

    Dementia doesn’t have a cure, but helping someone with dementia who hoards involves a mix of understanding, practical changes, and professional support. Here are some strategies that can be effective:

    Empathy and Patience

    Understanding and patience form the foundation of any approach to helping someone with dementia. By trying to see the world from their perspective, caregivers can better navigate the complexities of hoarding behavior, reducing frustration for both parties and fostering a supportive environment.

    Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

    CBT helps by addressing the thought patterns that lead to hoarding. It can assist individuals in recognizing irrational beliefs about their possessions and learning healthier ways to cope with anxiety or loss, potentially reducing the compulsion to hoard.

    Adjust the Living Space

    Simplifying the home environment by reducing clutter and organizing items can decrease the overwhelming stimuli that might exacerbate hoarding tendencies. A well-organized space can also make it easier for the individual to find and use items, reducing the perceived need to save excessively.

    Family Therapy

    Involving the family in therapy can improve communication and understanding among all members. It helps address relational strains due to hoarding and ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding strategies and support.

    Practical Measures:

    • Clear Spaces: Keeping living areas clear not only reduces the risk of accidents but also creates a more calming environment for the individual, potentially lessening anxiety-driven hoarding.
    • Visual Aids: Labels and pictures can help someone with dementia remember where things belong, making it easier for them to part with duplicates or unnecessary items.
    • Secure Valuables: Locking away important items reassures the person that their valuables are safe, which can reduce the impulse to hide or hoard items out of fear of loss.

    Scheduled Decluttering

    Regular, gentle decluttering sessions help prevent the accumulation of new clutter while respecting the person’s attachment to their possessions. This gradual approach can minimize distress and resistance to letting items go.

    Memory Boxes

    Designating specific boxes for sentimental items allows the individual to keep cherished memories without overrunning living spaces. It provides a tangible way to revisit memories, offering comfort and reducing the need to hoard other items.

    Decision-Making Involvement

    Including the person in decisions about what to keep or discard empowers them, respects their autonomy, and can make decluttering less threatening. It’s an opportunity to validate their feelings and choices, which can ease the process.

    Gentle Reminders

    Regular, kind reminders about why certain changes are being made can help the person with dementia understand and cooperate with decluttering efforts. Reassurance that their needs are being considered can alleviate anxiety.

    New Activities

    Introducing new hobbies provides alternative sources of joy and fulfillment that don’t involve acquiring or keeping physical items. Engaging in meaningful activities can distract from hoarding behaviors and enrich a person’s life.

    Limit Shopping

    Monitoring or limiting shopping trips tackles hoarding at its source by reducing the influx of new items into the home. This can be done sensitively, ensuring the person still feels a sense of control and independence.

    Support Groups

    Caregiver support groups offer a platform to share experiences, tips, and emotional support. Learning from others who face similar challenges can provide practical strategies and reduce feelings of isolation.

    Helping Your Loved One with Dementia and Hoarding

    Helping someone with dementia who also hoards might seem tough, but with patience and the right approach, you can make their life better. Remember, it’s all about showing them love and understanding.

    Using simple tricks like keeping the house tidy, trying therapy, and finding new fun activities can really help. It’s not just about dealing with the hoarding but making sure they feel safe and happy.

    Don’t forget, you’re not alone in this. Joining groups where people share their experiences can give you support and new ideas to try. It’s all about making life as good as it can be for your loved one.

    In the end, what matters most is making sure they feel cared for and respected. With kindness, creativity, and some helpful strategies, you can face the challenges of dementia and hoarding together, ensuring a happier life for your loved one.