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Dealing with Rummaging, Pillaging & Hoarding

Rummaging, pillaging and hoarding are all common behavioral problems associated with dementia, and can range from strange to embarrassing to dangerous. By reacting appropriately and providing a structured environment, you can keep your belongings and your loved ones safe.

Individuals living with dementia rummage, pillage and hoard objects for a number of reasons. They may be attempting to cope with memory loss by carefully storing things that they perceive to be important in the future or they may simply not remember that they took an object or that it wasn’t theirs to begin with. These behaviors can help your loved one to feel a sense security amidst the loss of self by having lots of “things.”

Consider safety. Whatever the motivation, if your loved one is engaging in any of these behaviors, it’s important to consider safety or health issues around the home. Take an inventory and be sure that the clutter isn’t overwhelming, that it doesn’t increase the likelihood of an injury or fall, and that there aren’t any health risks as a result (for example, there are sanitary concerns associated with hoarding trash). 

Consider structure. Providing a structured, predictable environment helps relieve anxiety commonly known to trigger behavior issues in the memory impaired. Even in the home, a daily activity structure should be planned to help your family member better understand and relate to their environment and the belongings in it, rather than act out impulsively.

Stay calm. If your loved one is pillaging your personal belongings, hiding important things, like car keys, or hoarding items, remain calm and don’t worsen the situation by reacting negatively. Never scold, correct, argue, or attempt to reason with your loved one. These responses are counterproductive and hurt relationships. Instead, refocus or use the 5 Rs. Have compassion and remember that this certainly isn’t what your loved one thought his retirement or golden years would bring.