How to Cope With Repetitive Buying by Someone With Dementia

Repetitive buying is a common trait in mild dementia. It's especially frequent when grocery shopping, but it can also happen when shopping at hardware stores, drugstores, or any kind of shop the person frequents.

Why it happens: The force of habit is strong, and memory is weaker, so your loved one may go to the store with the same shopping list in his or her head, outing after outing, forgetting what was bought last time or what's in the cupboards at home.

What you can do:

  • At home, weed through food items regularly to throw away what's outdated.

  • Give away multiples to reduce clutter.

  • Offer to shop together, making a list beforehand (and pointing out that no, she doesn't need any more ketchup).

  • In the store, let your loved one make his or her own selections, but discreetly remove from the basket (or at checkout) the things you know aren't needed. Or suggest that there's enough on hand at home, but you'll write the item on the list for "next time."

  • You might also offer to shop for the person, to minimize the number of store trips he or she makes.

  • Look into grocery-delivery services; many stores allow you to shop online and then pick up your order or have it delivered to your home.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

over 1 year, said...

My mother did this for a few years. I lived near her and would take her shopping whenever she wanted but she would forget and later in the day walk down to the shops again (2kms each way) - once or even twice more even when the temperature was melting the road. She had a house full of red apples and bags of sugar as well as a freezer absolutely stuffed with frozen beans. The staff in the supermarket would tell me off whenever they saw me but there was nothing I could do. As I worked full time, I could not be with her all the time. I tried to get her into a nursing home but her GP kept telling me she only had very mild dementia and and therefore was still capable of making her own decisions. The incessant shopping, especially in our heatwaves, was putting her life at risk but I had my hands tied. Finally we found a specialist who listened to what we were saying and Mum has been in supported care ever since. It is not ideal but she is safe and happy.

over 4 years, said...

I'm going nuts with this situation! My husband (dementia) orders stuff from info commercials, buys multiple items for local stores, tries to hire contractors for jobs we don't need and is now taking checks from our joint acct. and not telling me how much he withdraws, so I pay bills in the dark. I'm getting very depressed… He's not in a condition where I can seek legal help… I NEED HELP!

about 6 years, said...

Unless the item is perishable, I let her buy it. Hair products seem to be an attraction. Never on the list, always in the cart.

about 6 years, said...

Very good advice.

over 6 years, said...

My husband constantly buys more than he's supposed to buy, even with a list, duplicating things bought the time before. At least I have some suggestions on how to handle this, and know that it is common.