Why Alzheimer’s suffers, rummage, hide and lose things


By Micha Shalev

Alzheimer’s suffers my have a tendency to rummage through the belongings of others. They may also have a tendency to hide or lose their own belongings or repeat actions or questions.

Rummaging or searching behavior may indicate an anxious, insecure feeling that he/she has lost something. The patient may touch, move, or take items, and become very agitated when they cannot find what they are looking for. Though often what he/she is looking for may be of an unspecified nature.

shalev_hsIf he/she can name a specific item, help him/her look for it. If this behavior is frequent and indicates excess energy, provide a special place where the patient can rummage without upsetting others or where the chance of misplacing important items is reduced.

A special drawer or closet stocked with items geared to the person’s interest may lessen the source of anxiety and, at the same time, serve as a specific activity. You may also try to distract the individual when he/she begins to rummage by involving him/her in another activity.

A related behavior involves hiding and losing articles, which may include almost anything. Hiding or hoarding items may give the person a sense of security or control over some aspect of his/her life. You can help the individual in the following ways:

•Label articles, drawers and cabinets where items are kept.

•Limit or replace valuables, which may be misplaced, i.e., heirloom jewelry, irreplaceable items of sentimental value.

•Learn the person’s normal hiding places.

•When possible, have multiples of eyeglasses, teeth, etc., if these are frequently misplaced.

•Monitor carefully the person’s tendency to hide food and other items that might spoil and later be ingested.

•Address the underlying feelings that might lead to the need to hide items.

Repetitive actions may result from a number of causes including not being able to remember; not being able to expressa need such as hunger, pain or need to use the bathroom; side effects from medications; the need for self stimulation; or feelings of anxiety or insecurity.

When a person asks the same questions repeatedly, most often it is because he cannot remember having asked the question before nor can he remember your response. Each time, it is new information for him/her. Writing out answers to frequent questions may help some patients. Calendars, clocks and other memory aids are also useful, such as, “We will go for a walk when the long hand gets on 4.”

The Alzheimer’s person may be repetitive when he feels he is not being heard. Careful attention to verbal and non-verbal behaviors may give you clues to felt needs. Reassure the person by listening and responding with warmth and attention.

Distraction often works for many people. However, some individuals may become agitated if behavior is interrupted. If the behavior is not harmful to the individual, such as pacing in a small area, allow it.

Some repetitive motions, such as rocking motions, may be comforting to the patient. Others may indicate response to medications or physical problems. A physician or nurse should evaluate the patient.

Micha Shalev MHA CDP CDCM CADDCT is the owner of Dodge Park Rest Home and The Adult Day Club at Dodge Park located at 101 Randolph Road in Worcester. He is a graduate of the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners program, and well-known speaker covering Alzheimer’s and dementia training topics. He can be reached at 508-853-8180 or by e-mail at m.shalev@dodgepark.com or view more information online at www.dodgepark.com