Ask any caregiver to a loved one with Alzheimer’s or some other dementia and they will all say that the person they once knew begins to change into a different person with different strange habits. The habits vary from individual to individual but there is a marked change in their personalities.
One of mom’s many personality changes was hoarding…or was it hoarding? I mean, don’t you have to know you keep tons of the same things in order for it to be hoarding? The jury is out on that definition but mom began to “collect” lots of things. She had several mixing bowl sets (all the same kind) a serious collection of tee shirts (but not all the same, just a lot of them) and for some reason she bought enough jeans to open up her own denim store. And the sad thing about all of that clothing is that she only wore a few of the same things over and over and over.
Now many of us exhibit that same behavior, you know where you buy things because you like them and just know that one day you will wear them but you never do. This results in your going into your closet one day to find something and you run across an item that still has the tags on it. Most of us feel a bit embarrassed at this point and bemoan wasting the money whereupon we either wear the item, donate it, or give it to someone else. But with someone with dementia that doesn’t happen.
While wearing the same things over and over (sometimes with us having to crowbar her out of the clothing so they could be washed) mom continued to buy new things seemingly oblivious to the growing piles of the same items. As I said, she had one closet in my old room stuffed to near bursting with shirts and jeans while the dining room was piled up with pots and pans and mixing bowls but not to the level of the clothing.
Dad just went along with her while my sister and I tried to thin out some of her collections but that didn’t always go well for us. Oh there would be a few times when mom would give us something from one of her collections saying she had too many and wasn’t using such and such anymore (I still own one of the mixing bowl sets she gave me) and we’d make it home with the item, but at other times it would get ugly.
By ugly I mean when I would visit mom and dad she would act reasonably normal, other than being a bit disheveled, and would say “I have something to give you that I don’t need anymore” and then take us back to whatever room and hand us some tee shirts or a pot or pan to take home with us. But by the time mom and I would reach the front of the house and she would turn around and stare at me, whatever had been given was taken back – with a bit of hostility and accusations.
It took that long (or is it that short of a time) for mom to go from being nice and gifting me something in one area of the house to snatching out of my hands whatever it was that I was holding and for her to rail on me about taking her things and why was I trying to steal from her. The first time she did this I made the mistake of trying to argue with her – “Mom you just gave me this stuff! I’m not trying to take anything from you!” Dumb move on my part but this was something I had to learn the hard way; many caregivers do.
After that I either avoided accepting anything from her, got better at sneaking things out, or I would come up with something along the lines of she asked me to bring these things into the other room for her, etc., or I would just not say a word because in the next few minutes it would all be forgotten by her anyway.
When dealing with a loved one exhibiting this sort of behavior the best you can do sometimes is shrug your shoulders and go with the flow; arguing will get you absolutely no where. And if you have to help clean out some things it might help if you remove items one or two at a time and space out the times when you do it but don’t try doing it in front of them! It’s amazing how their memory will pop back in just when you least suspect it.
Remove things when they are occupied in another part of the house with someone else (although paranoia sometimes creeps in and they will want to know where you are and what you are doing) or if you have access to the house when they are gone, like when they are out at the doctors or to lunch with someone, to do it then. These are just suggestions there is no one size works for all.
You have to figure out what works best for them and for you.