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Hi, everyone
My mom, with moderate Alzheimer's, has just started getting things out of closets, dressers, desks, kitchen cupboards, etc., but doesn't put anything back. My dad suggests that she finish one "project" before she starts another one, but she doesn't. She won't let anyone help her put things away because then "she won't be able to find it again." She can't remember where things are now, which might be way she is taking everything out of places. Is this common in people who have Alzheimer's and is there anything we can do to help? I live too far away to go help her organize and she won't let me label cupboards and drawers for her.

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Dementia creates all sorts of behaviors, my grandma would put things up in strange places and then she couldn't remember where she put them. I've seen this many times, as long as there isn't a risk of harm, then allow her to do so. I know it's messy, but it works for her. For those drawers, doors or cabinets, childproof them with childproof locks if there are items there she doesn't need to be moving etc. Give her a basket of clothes to fold, towels or washcloths are good, stop at a thrift store or a yard sale and purchase children's clothes for her to fold. She can sort plastic table ware or wooden spoons. It's not easy watching the ones we love decline, but you just keep trying, love them and do the best you can.
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Pargirl, we found the same thing when we moved Mom last month. All the gifts she had been given tossed in drawers, with little plastic bags of coins, pictures, socks, old bras, cards, jewelry in a big knot scattered in drawers and dozens of bottles of fancy lotions, etc - all unopened. It was so sad. We ended up throwing 1/2 of it away, giving most of the rest to charity. Sadly, it was all meaningless to her, no sentimentality for anything. Fortunately, she was not there when we cleaned out. Hopefully the more simplistic life in AL will be less complicated for her, but for now, she misses "her stuff" even though she didn't care about it or remember it once it went in the drawer.
This has been a huge lesson for me - no one wants "my stuff" including my kids. I am starting to get rid of things now. Sadly, even collectibles, cut glass, and many antiques our generation thought had value, no longer does! Bottom line - you can't take it with you, so what do you do with it?
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Yes, it is very normal unfortunately. Not everyone does it but a lot do it. My mom did. After she did it instead of leaving it out she would hide it in different places. We would find it in all sorts of places. We wouldn't find it until we were putting something away or trying to find something. She wouldn't know that she had even done it. Would refuse to believe that she did it. Nothing was ever HER, it was always us. I think the advice that was given before was to pare things down so that it's not so hard for the caregiver to put things back. Wish I had done that 7 or 8 years ago so it wouldn't have been so hard on my mom or me and dad. When I finally placed her in a facility and I was going through all of her drawers, it was kind of overwhelming for me not to mention what it was like for her. Couldn't believe what all I found. Pare down for all is my advice. Good Luck and God Bless....
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That's so true. Yep also the not throwing anything out. It makes hoarders look like they're packing for a weekend! But that's another whole topic....
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Its a good thing they are not aware of what they are doing. Mom used to move things around in her apartment, once I found her bedroom clock in the bottom kitchen cabinet, dirty depends in the underwear drawer, etc. I'm glad Mom doesn't realize what dementia is doing to her. She would be so frightened, not to mention embarrassed and depressed.
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My mother does a little of both- putting things away where you can't find them again to puttering in the kitchen taking cookies out of the cabinet or something out of the fridge to pick on. She makes a mess of the counter and leaves whatever it was out on the counter. It's impossible to make them change their ways. Like its a new hardwiring for them. The challenge is figuring out how to work around it!
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I just read "Still Alice" about a woman with dementia (also a movie with Julianne Moore). It was written by a woman who's a neurobiologist at Harvard, who's field is Alzheimers and the brain. She's also an online columnist for the Alzheimer's Association.

In the book, several times Alice will look for something and take everything out of cupboards and drawers and then get frustrated and walk away. Or she'll forget what she's looking for after she gets everything out. In one case, she took everything out of cupboards and cabinets in the kitchen, when the owner walked in. She was in the home next door and didn't realize it. It's a very good book (and a fast read) that I recommend. Helps you understand what it's like to experience Alzheimers as the patient.
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In the piece about dementia I mentioned watching on TV wasn't a true documentary but was part of a news show I think. They took the host and a son of a woman with the rummaging syndrome and did several things to them to mimic the things patients deal with. Taped their fingers together for one because patient's sense of touch is askew and asked them to do various tasks, like packing a suitcase in low light with taped fingers and under other disorienting situations. The host and son were very frustrated and the son gave up in exasperation. I think we "normals" don't realize the side effects of these dementia illnesses and all the really horrible thoughts that go through their minds.
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I think it's kind of sad when someone with dementia does something like this because I think they do it because they are having difficulty organizing their thoughts and rummaging through their stuff makes them feel like they have some control over their possessions and environment. Ferris's answer is good. Just let her do what she is doing. Otherwise, if you try to stop her, it might just cause her added anxiety. As long as it's something that is not hurting anyone. . . .
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I have an almost opposite problem with my mother. She puts things away - usually inappropriately. She will put dirty clothes on the floor of her closet or in her drawers. If she takes something out of a drawer, she will often put it somewhere else. We spend a considerable amount of time looking for things she has "put away". She is in assisted living, so the staff there will often help her, but if they can't find something, they call me. Just yesterday, I tied her cell phone charger to the table next to her lift chair and attached a note that said "This is your cell phone charger. Just leave it attached to this table." I am hoping that this will save me some trips. We have downsized Mom's stuff a couple of times to make it easier for her (and us) to find things. Maybe eliminating some of the things in your parents' home would help. At least there would be less for your dad to put away.
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My husband has been doing this ( to my chagrin) for several years. I feel better knowing this maybe part of the illness.
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Then let your father deal with it. If he lets her take things out, that is her "job" right now in her mind. The clutter is not confusing to the dementia mind as it tries to sort out things. If your father can live with it, then leave her alone. This behavior will stop and then she will do something else. Do not worry about it, and welcome to the world of dementia. Get used to it because there is nothing you can do about the progression of this disease, and everyone with it has similar symptoms and others have other bizarre symptoms. My husband just started cleaning out things and rearranging since he was quite an ordered and organized person without dementia. One has to be in order to fly B-747s, and I just think it is an improvement that he took the initiative. Two steps forward, one step back, and so it goes...
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It think it must be common. My mom does that all of the time, pulls clothing out and doesn't put it away. One of my biggest pet peeves (I just deal with it) is that she doesn't ever throw anything away. Napkins, paper cups, tissues, wrappers all just kind of accumulate around her sink. I just come in each day and throw everything away. She is constantly wanting to look at the watch I got her for Christmas. She's constantly moving it around and once she was so upset because she said someone must have stolen it but she had moved it. We found it under her night stand. She recently put a box of crackers in her laundry basket! ha! When she first started doing it, I'll admit it really frustrated me but now I understand and just deal with it. Sometimes I talk to her about it and say, "ok, lets put some of your things away" and she actually really tries to help. Maybe that might help with your mom. Good luck!
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olivia12, I am guilty too and always have been a "clutter queen". When I put everything away, I can't remember where it is.
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Funny, my mother never went through that stage. What she does is put everything IN drawers and closets. We decorate her apartment for the holidays and very slowly things disappear from tabletops, hanging decorations - and we find them stuffed in drawers, cabinets and on the floor of the closet. It's so strange!
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I watched a documentary on understanding the things Alzheimer's patients do. As mentioned above the rummaging is a very common thing for them to do. Although I am 76 I don't think I have dementia quite yet, but had to almost laugh because I have been doing that kind of thing all my life. Looking for something, put nothing back, hate to close cabinet doors for some reason. Used to drive my husband batty and I was only 19. Not to make light of your situation though.
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stevensmom, it sounds like your mother is in the rummaging phase. My mother went through this stage three years ago. It was like she was looking for something in drawers, but couldn't find anything. Sometimes she would stick things back in drawers. Sometimes she wouldn't. I would just return things to their place and close the drawers, which she would leave open. My mother only did this for a few months. Maybe it will be the same for yours.
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