How can I keep my father, who has dementia, from losing things?

15 answers | Last updated: Dec 08, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I keep my 80-year-old dad, whose forgetfulness has just been diagnosed as Alzheimer's, from constantly misplacing or losing the remote and the cordless phone?

Expert Answers

Geri R. Hall is an advanced practice nurse who works in the department of neurology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and at the Banner Alzheimer Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. She's also a speaker and author who since 1996 has facilitated the online support group for the Washington University, St. Louis, Alzheimer's Disease Research Center's Alzheimer List.

Look for practical solutions. Creating routine is a big help. Keep certain items like the phone, a message board, and a calendar in plain sight in a central location that everybody uses all the time. Your dad learns where things are by repetition, not by reason.

Build in assistive devices, too. Here are some ideas:

  • Many cordless phones have a paging system; you push a button on the cradle and the receiver beeps. Show him how to use it, and gently remind him if he forgets.
  • You can also buy small pagers to attach to easily misplaced items like key rings. Press the color-coded base station and, through wireless technology, the item answers with an alarm. Look for these and similar aids at places like Brookstone or the Alzheimer's Store at Ageless Design. They offer products designed specifically for people with Alzheimer's or dementia.
  • For the TV remote, install a pocket that hangs from his favorite chair. Choose a strongly contrasting color, even if it's not a fashion statement. Keep redirecting him, without berating him, to put the remote there.
Consider an occupational therapy consultation. The therapist comes to your dad's home to do an assessment that includes seeing how much cueing (reminding) he needs and how to simplify the environment so that he's most likely to succeed. That kind of consultation can be very helpful and should be repeated annually as the disease progresses.

Community Answers

Littlesister answered...
In addition to the solutions given by the expert, another possible answer is have duplicates of the things he's misplacing most often. If the cordless phone is ringing and he can't find it, having another unit in another room, for example, may reduce his anxiety at that given moment. We've got one with three units. We keep one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom and one in the office.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Both my mother and father were happy to have 'pockets' which were short pocketed aprons such as waitresses wear, (his was a canvas carpenter's apron) or a pocketed 'cobbler's apron' and that helped with the 'losing' problem. For instance items could be tethered with an elastic cord to the apron. Of course what items turned up in those pockets at times was surprising, but they were a help to us all. In addition there is a dementia symptom that includes not being able to SEE or recognize an object, despite having acceptable visual ability still. My mother was able to find things when we reminded her to stop and shut her eyes and start over. It calmed her and made items 'reappear' so they could be found.

Frena answered...

i love the pockets idea!

in general, any solution which depends upon the person with dementia "remembering" is obviously a lost cause. likewise, the idea of retraining someone with dementia is adorable, but also guaranteed to be a lost cause too. only pick these solutions if you want to be driven completely crazy.

as far as possible, step back the technology a few decades.

so get the phone back to being one of those phones which is attached to a cord. they're still commonly found, even in modern stores;

the remote is a challenge. if dad only sticks to one channel, maybe no-one needs a remote. otherwise, is there a remote model which could be somehow attached to the arm of dad's viewing chair. or could you attach a pocket to the chair to hold the remote?

this is what i love about people with dementia -- they keep the rest of us inventing fabulous new devices...

Paula1224 answered...

My Mom hides things and will tell us they were either lost or stolen. She has hidden the full set of silverware and we have yet to find it. She will walk around with a book like she is going to read it and if you ask her where her glasses are, she says she lost them or she doesn't need them anymore or someone stole them. We found the TV remote hidden in a basket under things in her bedroom. I make it a game of hide and seek with my kids: see who can find the remote first. At first this bothered us a lot, now we just let it go because she finds things when it is really important to her.

Karla1234 answered...

Thank you for identifying what one of my problems is. Not being able to recognize an object. I did not know that other people can do this as well as I can, meaning NOT recognizing. Months ago I told myself that if something scared me, that I HAD to go and take care of it. If it was a wasp in the house, a dead cat in my yard, whatever, I was going to be brave, VERY brave. I have followed through on that promise to myself. Once I saw something on the kitchen floor that I thought was a dead salamander or a dead large grasshopper. I was scared to touch it. I made myself bend over and pick it up with my hand. It felt horrible, I was almost trembling. It did not move. I looked at the limp thing closer. It was a piece of a lettuce leaf that fell on the floor when I was washing newly purchased lettuce early that morning. I had not noticed it and by the time I picked it up it was very warm and wilted. Oh my! So now I can teach myself to stop, close my eyes, and start over. And then maybe I will recognize it, even though I have not LOST it. Is there any hope for not recognizing???

Frena answered...

Karla1234, the name for not being able to recognize an object is "visual agnosia" and it happens in connection with brain injuries and also in connection with dementia in some people.

apparently, occupational therapy can help with this. also, i had a friend who was subject to occasional temporary incidents of this. she found that, if she relaxed and breathed calmly and slowly, often the missing information would return to her in a few minutes.

so, fear and stress make it harder, and deliberately calming oneself may make it easier.

hope that helps. many blessings!

A fellow caregiver answered...

Frena: Very good answer...visual agnosia can also be a genetic quirk: My mother was blessed with it as I and one of my sisters are, as are my daughter and one of my granddaughters. I can remember helping my mother search high and low for her glasses, so we could go shopping, when my tall son came in and demanded to know what the hold up was. We told him. He just shook his head and reached over and plucked those invisible glasses off the top of my mother's head.

Karla1234 answered...

Karla here: Oh, Frena thank you so much for "fear and stress make it harder". The "it" can be of many things or times, where I should rest and breath deeply.

Being single , I have told myself all of my life that I am not afraid of anything. I have lived in the inner city of a number of very large cities.

I have always been, and still am, proactive with speaking to strangers, before they get the idea that I am any more easy to bump off, than I really am. I try to identify with them and approach them as a team member by finding something that unites us.

I have never been afraid of a stranger, but I find with my fears of not finding a bathroom in time, not being able to find someone to lift heavy items off shelves for me in a store ( I end up doing it myself and then being in great pain for a week, telling myself that I will never do it by myself again.), knowing that I can not safely lift my purchases up the stairs into my home and use my key to open the door and not have it slam on me the in windy times all at the same time. Multiple trips are hard on me also, though I am doing more of that. These are all worries that I deny to myself, so I see now that they come out as stress. From the time I leave my house until the time I am back inside with my cat and have put clean clothes on I am uncomfortable. I can see that this might be a problem for dementia patients also.

I have no working immune system from medication I take which represses it on purpose. So when I use the driving carts in stores, I know I am sitting in someone else's urine problems. I can not take those germs into my living room or even the rest of my house if at all possible. So when I go out, I am afraid of catching things, as people are coughing, spitting where I will walk, wiping their noses and touching store items, and then deciding to put them back.

I try to repress my phobia of germs, but I really need to be aware of them so I clean up and not allow my house to become a germ bed.

So thank you for pointing out that I might be experiecing fear and stress. It is from my surroundings; and how unkempt other people who have no reason to be aware of germs. It is not the people, it is the environment. But I am afraid of it. I see that the same healthy habits of coping may work for a number of automatic difficult unwanted responces from patients, and from me by learning to calm oneself. Thank you for responding.

Frena answered...

wow, thank you to everyone involved in this side discussion of "visual agnosia" (which i found out by googling it after reading karla's first comments. i asked google what the name of that symptom might be.

i've seen it often in those with dementia, who have linked, rational step by step thinking processes disrupted by the physical deterioration of their brain cells.

i knew people with strokes experienced something like it, but i'm fascinated and humbled by all the other stories here. i'm humbled because so people deal with this, with humor and bravery and just plain darn humanness and getting-down-to-doingness. it just reminds me over again how very extraordinary people are in all the challenges of life.

bless you all and thank-you for bringing something very lovely into this cold frozen week we've been having.

Susanpe answered...

My mother in law wears a "waist bag" around her waist, where she carries her money and other things that are important to her. That way, she can't say anyone stole it, because it's around her waist!

Chapmrs answered...

Instead of leaving notes--which get read, crumpled, and then forgotten--I leave small chalkboards near my mother's chair, bedroom and in the kitchen. I made them with scraps of wood and chalkboard paint (hardware or crafts store). My mother reads over and over again where I've gone, what day it is, and how to work the microwave. She'd never think to get up and get a cloth to erase the board! Too much effort! Works great.

Jean's daughter answered...

Purchase an "old fashioned' phone with a cord. Use velcro to keep the remote on the arm of your dad's chair.

Eglord answered...

Use a smart find remote control key locator for items like keys and remote control: at Amazon. Otherwise, I have kept such things out of reach so my husband, who has Alzheimer's, would not keep loosing important articles such as keys, etc. Good luck with finding solutions that work for you.

Mom's kid answered...

I'm not really responding to any specific question, a couple of things have been so helpful. Mom used to write notes on any scrap of paper and then misplace them. She had piles of them. I bought her a cheap notebook and with some prompting, she has started writing everything in it including grocery lists, information someone gives her on the phone, things she wants me to do, etc. She loves this because she knows everything she needs to remember is in that notebook...somewhere. Also, she could never find her house key, so I bought a retractable key holder from Amazon and attached it to one of her purse straps. Now, she can't lose it, and she thinks the "retractibility" is kind of neat! Whew! A couple of problems solved!