Should my mom's house remain unchanged even though she has memory problems?

2 answers | Last updated: Mar 24, 2015
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom is 65 and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I want to make life easier for her, but I'm torn: she's a packrat and always has been. Her house is a mess, and I don't know whether this is a hindrance or whether it helps her, since it's familiar. Is it better to reduce clutter or keep things as they are?

Expert Answers

Beth Spencer is a social worker in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with more than 25 years of experience with families who have a member with dementia. She is coauthor of Understanding Difficult Behaviors and Moving a Relative with Memory Loss: A Family Caregiver's Guide. She directs Silver Club, early-stage and adult day programs serving individuals with Alzheimer's and related illnesses.

Changing the environment drastically is usually very disorienting to someone with dementia or Alzheimer's. It's best to maintain familiar surroundings.

Having said that, an enormous amount of clutter can be disorienting and confusing. Some people develop spatial problems during the course of Alzheimer's, which results in the inability to locate themselves or objects in space accurately. You see this, for example, when someone tries to sit down and misses the chair. People can also lose the ability to recognize objects. Confusion can worsen in these situations when the environment is overcrowded or untidy. And you don't want her to trip and fall over items left on the floor.

The ideal route is to keep things pretty much the same -- don't rearrange furniture or sweep all the surfaces clear overnight -- but gradually declutter. Put away unnecessary objects or ones she won't miss.

As you do this, it's very important not to upset your mother, so depending on her tolerance (and how much she notices what you're doing), you may need to go slowly. To get an idea of how much you can do, consider what she is like in general and how much she minds interference. Try to observe how she is now and figure out how to problem-solve for her. For example, maybe she needs to keep her nightstand clear because otherwise she has trouble finding her glasses in the morning. Or you can offer to help her organize her books if they're all over the house -- part of her packrat tendency may stem from the fact that she's had difficulty organizing things for some time.

Community Answers

Lomeincat6 answered...

Your question was very helpful to me. My husband is in the early stages of dementia and I w0uld love to move to be near my children, 1 hour away. He refuses. After reading the answer to you I think I better remain where I am