Is It a Reason For Concern?
Your mom’s house was always clean but not spotless. There was a stack of magazines here and a pile of mail there. As she got older you noticed the clutter seemed to take over. She would have ten bottles of dish soap under the sink. Plastic food containers piled on the counter. Plastic shopping bags overflowing on to the floor. Boxes, empty boxes stacked high in the living room. One day when the two of you were out to eat, you noticed her putting a handful of sugar packets into her purse. When you got back to her house you watched her put the sugar packets in a drawer in the kitchen. Waiting for your mom to leave the room, you opened the drawer to find it full of sugar, salt, and pepper packets. So you open another drawer. This one was is full of used zip bags and crumpled up aluminum foil. She’s never done this before. What is going on?
It’s not uncommon for people in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s to start accumulating excessive clutter. They may be experiencing a decreased ability to sort junk mail from the important mail. They may be forgetting they already have certain items at home and buy more. They may have an overall confusion about what to do with all this extra stuff. If the person lives alone these little changes can be easily overlooked.
Remember there is a reason for every action. Maybe they realize their memory is failing. As their short-term memory fails, their long-term memory may flood their mind. Memories of the Depression or wartime rations come to the surface. Triggering the need to save everyday items in case they become scarce. At their age, people they have known for a very long time are starting to pass away. Loneliness and anxiety may begin to fill their life. How would you feel if your world felt like it was crumbling beneath your feet? Sounds terrifying to me.
Be compassionate. Remember they have no control over what Dementia is doing to them. They may resist the idea of decluttering. So, pick your battles. Is the clutter harmful to them? If no, then simply monitor what they are accumulating. When the time comes to thin out their stash, get someone to help distract them with a tempting activity. Time for a trip to McDonald’s for a milkshake.
The Beginning of a Long Journey
Remember they are confused and overwhelmed by these changes. Be supportive and stay positive. It’s the beginning of a long journey. You will need to pace yourself and conserve your energy. This would be a good time to confide in friends and family members. Find support through others who have already struggled through and survived. With enough support, you too can survive and in return help others who are also walking this difficult path.