Community Blog

Caregiver Tips: Safely Managing a Senior with Dementia's Urge to Rummage

By Michael Hagman, RN, BSN

Caregivers in Montana City MT

While many people have ideas about what they think that Alzheimer's disease "looks like" or the set of symptoms that a person with this disease will have, the truth is that every person's experience is different. In your caregiver experience with your aging parent with Alzheimer's you will learn that encountering one person with this disease means that you have encountered one person with the disease, not every person with it, and that you cannot use that person's experience, symptoms, or behaviors as a means of measuring and predicting those of others. It is up to you as your parent's caregiver to learn more about the symptoms that your parent is actually facing and develop your care efforts around those specific issues.

One symptom of Alzheimer's disease that many people do not anticipate is the urge for the person with the disease to rummage or search through things. You may notice that your parent opens drawers or closets and sifts through the items inside, digs through boxes, or even empties drawers. Along with this urge often comes the desire to hide things. You might find a collection of flatware under your parent's pillow or rolls of carefully folded bathroom tissue in their drawer.

While these behaviors can be frustrating, upsetting, and even dangerous for your parent and for you, it is important to remember that they are a part of the disease just like memory loss and communication decline. Your parent cannot control them and does not understand that you are upset about them or what they can do to change that you are upset. It is important that you remain patient and focus on incorporating those urges into your care and addressing them through careful measures that do not shame or upset your parent, but rather keep them safer and healthier.

Use these tips to help you safely manage your parent's urge to rummage or hide objects:

• Limit access to rooms in the home. Though you want to encourage as much independence as possible, this cannot be at the sacrifice of safety. If your parent has gotten to the point when they are frequently rummaging and hiding objects, it is time to limit their room access. Keep rooms that they do not use, such as bedrooms that are not theirs or storage rooms, locked or blocked so that your parent cannot get into them. This will limit what they can dig through and where they can hide things.

• Understand the motivation. Rummaging is not always a random activity. Your parent might have an unmet need they are attempting to fulfill with the rummaging. For example, they may actually be looking for something but not remember what it is called or how to tell you. They may be hungry and be looking for food. Try to understand the motivation behind the behaviors and resolve them.

• Indulge their urge. Sometimes rummaging and hiding is just a matter of easing boredom. Your parent is curious and wants to see what they can find or their brain is very active but they do not know how or where to channel that activity. Indulge their urge to rummage and to hide by creating controlled situations for them. Make a rummage box or rummage drawer and encourage them to search through it, organize the items, or do whatever they please with them. This can be as simple as filling a small cardboard or plastic box with items that you have in your junk drawer in your home or that you pick up at thrift stores. Look for costume jewelry, cards, small decorations, buttons, scraps of fabric and embellishments, small toys, and other items that you can mix up so that they have plenty of opportunity to search. Change these items out frequently.


If you or an aging loved one are considering hiring help for family caregivers in Montana City MT, contact the caring staff at Home Helpers. Call today (406) 438 - 2231.