All Alzheimer's Symptoms

When it happens

Any time

Why it happens

Hoarding is a compulsive behavior that anyone can adopt -- and it's thought to affect about 20 percent of those with dementia. Most hoarders obsessively collect and stash certain types of objects that have little to no value: papers, food, string, empty yogurt containers, almost anything.

Underlying changes in cognitive function, and an inability to think logically, usually affect dementia-related hoarding. Some people hoard food or money in a belief there won't be enough later. Others hide everyday goods, like the mail or keys, believing they're putting them away in a "safe place." People with dementia who hoard are afraid of losing objects.

The person may also rummage through the clutter created by hoarding.

What you can do:

  • Learn the hiding spots. Common places to check: under mattresses; in shoes in the closet; in bread boxes and other containers; even in dirty locations like garbage disposals, trash bins, and commodes. Unfortunately, once you find the hiding spot, a new one takes its place -- or there may be several.

  • Make sure clutter doesn't become a safety issue. Weed through unsightly piles and toss unnecessary items out, since they're both a tripping and a fire hazard. Paper is especially dangerous.

  • Know that medical compliance is often an issue for hoarders. They hide pill containers (but can't remember where), or the containers simply become obscured by piles of stuff.

  • Avoid trying to solve the problem by providing containers for organizing the clutter. The problem is that the person with dementia is incapable of organizing and may only pile more clutter on top of the surfaces provided by the containers.

  • Some people who hide items may find appeal in a "special drawer" or lockbox to use. However, it's just as possible that he or she may forget that special spot -- or develop irrational fears that the hiding place is known to others -- and create new spots.

  • Make sure the hoarder is kept busy during the day, since hoarding is sometimes a side effect of boredom. Activities that involve use of the hands (crafts, housework, yard work) may also help to stem the behavior.