My mother is stealing things from her neighbors in the senior community and they are getting angry. How do I prevent this from happening?

Asked by
Answers 1 to 10 of 10
Top Answer
Perhaps it is time for mother to have a different level of care. Stealing behavior is fairly common in many kinds of dementia. The concept of ownership gets very muddled and it boils down to the three-year-old logic of "If I like it, it's mine." This is not a character defect your mother is showing. It is part of her disease. You can expect the toddler to learn to share and to learn about "mine" and "yours." But with dementia the person is going backwards into illogical behavior, not forward learning society's conventions and expectations.

If mother were in a setting where this kind of behavior is expected and monitored, people would still be annoyed if she wandered into their room and helped herself to a teddy bear sitting on the bed, but a staff member would soon sort it out and return the bear to its rightful owner. (Some of the time! Alas, things also go missing permanently.)

I doubt this behavior will continue indefinitely. It is tempting to say wait it out and explain the situation to neighbors. But by the time it goes away there will be other dementia behaviors that have to be dealt with.

I think this is your wakeup call. Mom needs a level of care that acknowledges her impairments.
When my mother was in heart Homes, her things were showing up missing all the time. That's because they wouldn't keep her door locked. It is a problem with dementia patients. Sometimes the staff would find her stuff and sometimes they wouldn't. Anyway, just keep checking her room for things that don't belong to her and give them to the staff. They will return them to the patients. In any case, it isn't her fault.
My Aunt has done this for several years. She takes what she likes and hides it. When I come to visit I go through her hiding spots and give the stuff to staff. A memory care facility is used to this. Things of hers go missing too. It's just a part of the disease. But folks in a regular senior center who are not as far into dementia or don't have it at all don't tolerate this behavior so permits time to consider a change in living arrangements.
My mom is in Memory Care so this behavior is to be expected from a few residents. The staff calls them "shoppers" and 9/10 the items are eventually returned to their rightful owners. The staff should understand and not get angry with your mom!! It's certainly not her fault! It's annoying as all get out and I've had to buy extra slippers etc. and one particular item was missing for over 3 months but it suddenly reappeared in moms room. Not much can be done. The top comment sums it up. If your mom is in assisted but not a memory care unit, it might be time for an evaluation and a change.
My mom is a "shopper". It is very normal and part of the disease progression. The caregivers in her memory care home are so extremely patient and understanding. They don't ever take things away from my mom the moment they see it. They wait some time for my mom to set it down in her room, and then they will return the item to its owner. By that time my mom has already forgotten about the item. Some days my mom wears a piece of costume jewelry that she has sourced from her sweet neighbors room. She wears it all day and then at night when it is time to change into pyjamas, the caregivers will return the jewelry back to her neighbor room. It is part of what some dementia patients do and while I was the one who struggled with it initially, I am now ok with it and understand it. Nothing gets stolen. It is simply borrowed for a short time :-)
My mom was a "shopper" as well. She once even stole packs of cigarettes from the Nurses Station that they were keeping for the residents' regular smoke break outside. When she attempted to covet a doll another resident thought was a real baby and carried around constantly, we had a Care Conference meeting and the staff began keeping a closer eye. It had a lot to do with the fact that the lighter was also
on top of the cigarette packs as well and she could have set a fire. She claimed things just "appeared" in her room or were left there by others, so on some level she still understood stealing was wrong, but there's no doubt she couldn't help it. Things were also stolen from her and she would always throw things away. This is why I never brought heirloom things to keep in her room.
When I put mom in Respite care for awhile, the Director told me to bring only things that weren't expensive and no money. Things tend to disappear in nursing homes or the residents give each other things and forget. Then there is a big argument. When we go on vacation, we put mom in a nearby nursing home so we can visit her often. I gave her boxes of candy and flowers, magazines, her favorite pop, and snacks. I didn't care if it was shared or "stolen". Now, her purse and jewelry stayed at our home under an insurance policy. I carried her cash in my purse. I could be there in five minutes if she wanted anything. The way I found to stop missing clothing was to keep a laundry bag in her closet and do the laundry myself. Huge improvement. Mom lives with us and took everything pretty that wasn't nailed down. She hid the items in her purse she insisted on carrying everywhere in the house. When confronted, she lied. When we took the items from her purse and showed her, she still lied. Its a frustrating phase of dementia. Hers has passed. Now she likes stealing my pretty shoes and hiding them. Now I keep my shoes upstairs and keep reminding our daughter, you leave it lying around, expect it to be gone. You might try making her give the item back or she can't have the ice cream, cookies, special snack you brought her. We tried that with mom and had good results. She wanted to go bye bye in the car for ice cream more than she wanted to take the pretty. Just some thoughts.
A book that deals with the issue of stolen items and has an uplifting feel to it is "Creating Moments of Joy" by Jolene Brackey. If you are into reading at all and you have an interest in learning about interacting with persons with dementia, this is a good choice.
I don't know if there's going to be much you can do short of putting her into a facility where they can watch her. Meanwhile though, I would take what she stole and return it to rightful owners. I'm sure the neighbors there are angry enough to start breaking her fingers or worse, and I don't  blame them, so would I if I caught someone stealing from me. I would do whatever it took to stop them and get my property back no matter how fast I had to run or her how hard I had to fight someone physically to get my valuables back. I clearly understand the feeling of being stolen from because I can get pretty nasty if someone picks up something of mine, we'd have a physical fight on our hands and I can get pretty nasty, which is why I don't blame these people who are angry at this person for stealing from them. Your best bet may very well be to get her out of there before one of her angry neighbors has a chance to harm her for stealing from them because people really hate thieves. I don't know if she's coming into their apartments or stealing stuff like yard ornaments, I don't know either way but I can clearly understand how it feels to be a theft victim. There are people out there who worked very hard to earn the money to buy stuff and other times they buy stuff out of Social Security and somethings are gifts from special people and no one wants to be stolen from, especially if something they really need goes missing. I know during my high school years we had a classroom thief who kept stealing from people and fortunately staff knew who it was. I for one had an item go missing and fortunately for me my teachers knew what I had and who took it. It was right around the time I had something go missing that the thief was busted with stolen property. Unfortunately after I got it back with the help of my teachers, it went missing again within a day or two and all I had to do was speak up in class and automatically the teachers sprung into action and got my stolen item back again. I don't know how many times the thief was caught was stolen property but another time I was on the receiving end of what I didn't know was stolen property. When I returned to the dorm one day at the group home, our dorm staff got a call from someone from another dorm. I thought nothing of it until I was questioned to see if I had certain items that turns out to be something that was given to me earlier that day by another student who I thought was just trying to be nice. I was a little alarmed and I questioned them and said a certain student gave me some items matching that description. When they told me about the items being stolen by that student, I was so shocked and I had to ask them if they are sure it's the items that person actually gave me and they said yes but I didn't get in no trouble. However, the person who gave them to me he must've gotten into some trouble and I also had to turn over the items to the staff to be returned to the rightful owner. It was the last time anyone tried to give me anything and we had to go through staff for permission to give stuff to other people because I think this is why we had specifically assigned laundry numbers on all of our stuff and it was inventoried because each person had their own inventory managed by the group home staff in each unit. I'm sure whoever had items stolen at the center were very angry with the thief who stole their stuff. This is why we really need to be very careful who comes into our homes and what we leave out or laying around. When it comes to yard ornaments though, you put them out at your own risk even if it is your yard. The risk is much higher if your yard is not fenced in with a good enough fence to keep thieves out. Leaving outdoor stuff out in the yard is a risk people never really take into consideration until something goes missing. Anytime you leave something laying out in your home, the best thing to do before anyone comes in is to put away as much as possible and to keep a sharp eye on your company. When putting stuff outside, it's always a good idea to bring stuff in at the end of the day and lock it up. That way no one can steal from you. If you know who the thief is, that's what the law is for. Cops recover stolen property all the time if they find it. I recall years ago I was in route up the street when I saw a bicycle being retrieved, it was strapped to the back of a cruiser. I knew right then it was stolen from someone but I don't know who's bike it was. I figured some kid must've found it in someone's yard or on the sidewalk and just rode off on it. I guess the rightful owner must've seen someone riding it and report it to get stolen, because the bike was found and recovered. My advice is whatever you use whether it be a bike or yard furniture, don't leave it out unless you want it stolen. Always lock up your bikes and other outdoor items at the end of the day when you're done using them. Be very careful who comes into your home and don't answer the door if you're not expecting company. Keep your doors locked and your windows covered with privacy shears so no one can see what you have or if your home. Potential thieves often watch your habits and they take the first opportunity to act at any given chance when you're back is turned and you're not home. We actually had one teen who lived next-door when I first moved here. You could lock your door and double check it only to come home and find it standing open 2 feet. You're sure you lock that door and you don't know how anyone got it open. Anyway, I finally found out how the door was being forced open after being locked because I found the tool known as a crowbar out in the middle of the yard.  I really would've rather beat the person  with that crowbar for always prying my door open and when I started staying home, someone got bold and came in with me home and I wish I would've had that crowbar handy because I would've beat the crap out of the person who came in with me home, he would've been dead when I got done. You just don't break into peoples homes and expect to get away with it, especially with the owners or rightful tenants home. This is where the real problems start when people feel threatened. As for the crowbar though, I got rid of it  against my better judgment. I found it in the middle of my yard after the person was caught and locked up and permanently banned from my neighborhood by court order because come to find out he was doing this to others. I later heard about it by word-of-mouth through the person's ex-girlfriend. This is how I found out I was not the only one being broken into, there were definitely others but I don't know if the same toy used to get in my door was also used to get in other peoples homes, I don't know that but I got rid of the crowbar. That person has since been permanently banned from the neighborhood
When my Great Aunt was in a nursing home more than 30 years ago, her clothing was forever disappearing - although her name was in every garment, they never were returned.

It's sad but this is what happens in nursing homes. Punishing your mother would be like punishing a baby for crying. It just shouldn't be done.

You're embarrassed - but in the NH, it's just another day.

I like the suggestion of you turning over to the nurses station anything that you find that isn't your mother's. Other than that, try to understand and accept the inevitable. Just MHO.

Share your answer

Please enter your Answer

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support