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My father was diagnosed with vascular alzheimers dementia and mixed dementia 5 years ago. Though, I think his symptoms started at least 15 years ago. He has been declared indecisional. He's in his mid-80s and lives in memory care. I am his guardian. He has lived in MC for 1.5 years.


He has been stealing things. Lots of things... Things that mean nothing to him but may mean something to the other residents and probably mean a lot to their families. He takes silverware from the dining room (large amounts... service for at least 15-20 people); clothes and accessories (socks, shirts, pants, shoes, jewelry, sweaters, jackets, scarves, hats, bags); toiletries (tooth brushes, deoderant, perfumes, colognes, lotions, soaps, combs, etc.); sun glasses; reading glasses; blankets; decorative pillows; picture frames; stuffed animals; decorative plants; etc., anything not bolted down. I visit him once every week. Each time I visit, I deveop anxiety as he goes into his closet because he "wants to give me some things". He will fill up bags of the items he's stolen to give me. He will show me these items, proud to have given them to me. This really upsets, frustrates and confuses me.


As I am leaving, I drop the bags off at the nurses station for them to redistribute the items to their correct locations and owners.


I am disturbed and embarrassed by his behavior. I feel taking things from others is wrong. He sees nothing wrong with his stealing, isn't sorry about it, and thinks having these items is just fine.


Many times I have gently explained to him that these items don't belong to him and I can give them back to the correct owners. He gets upset with me and tells me the items are "his", he "bought them", his "friend gave them" to him, or I "don't appreciate anything he gives me". He has no money in the facility, by the way - and thank goodness for that because I am certain he would give people his money. They also do not go out shopping and there is nothing for purchase inside MC.


The staff is aware he takes things; I have given them permission to go into his room when he's participating in an activity to reclaim items. They never seem to get everything, though. Unfortunately, he keeps re-stealing the same items and taking more. It's a cycle that never seems to end.


Is this a normal behavior for someone with his type of dementia? Does anyone have experience with their loved one doing this? If so, how do you handle it, get it to stop?

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Your father has many typical dementia related behaviors, and there is NOTHING that he’s doing that should cause you any embarrassment.

Diagnosis of dementia means that his brain has begun to physically change in ways that disrupt his ability to think clearly and rationally, remember, and use mental tools to manage his behavior.

YOU feel that it is “wrong” to “steal” because the parts of your brain that make decisions about right and wrong are working. HIS brain no longer works in those areas.

It is VERY TYPICAL for patients in MC units to say they want to “go home”, but if taken to another place they used to live in, will not recognize it or be content with being there.

This is normal behavior, and it is NOT your job to counsel or criticize him or “get him to stop”, especially since nothing you say will be likely to have any impact on his actions.

The MC STAFF KNOWS what he is doing, and are trained to deal with it. Enjoy the time you spend with him, and stop concerning yourself about something that he is. OT responsible for and can’t change.

Remember too, whether you “gently explain” or scream or write him a letter he WILL NOT understand or respond to your communications as you want him to, because the “tools” in his brain are no longer working.

Continue to be his attentive and loving child. It is the very best thing you can do for him.
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Loralovesbread1 Jul 25, 2021
Thank you for your kind words and confirmation that his vehavior is a normal part of dementia.
The employees do know what Dad is doing. They tell me many residents do it as well, to a degree. They never seem upset and they know I will return whatever he gives me or I find each week.
I find I am so taken back by this particular behavior, perhaps because it's the most recent. It's also very different from whom snd how he was. Additionally, it's his dementia showing greater progression.
I agree I need to stop reacting to it by accepting the items he gives me so I can ensure I give them to the staff and they can sort out who the items belong to. Thankfully, his facility is small, less than 40 residents and most family members have written their names on their items such as shoes, clothing, glasses and their cases. Dad doesn't like wearing his own dentures, so I hope it's safe to think he won't take anyone elses. He also refuses to wear a hearing aid, so that seems like a safe bet he won't take those, at least for now.
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First and foremost, NEVER be embarrassed by a dementia patient's behavior, especially in a caregiving facility.

Sounds like you're handling it perfectly. It's super common for dementia patients to do this, and it sounds like you and his caregiving team have found a perfect solution.

Don't stress about it, the workers there have doubtlessly seen this many, many times. The fact that he's willing to gather up his "treasures" for you to return is encouraging.

Keep up the good work.
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Reply to ZippyZee
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Don't think of it as stealing. It is not. It is a symptom of his disease and his reality is that these are his things. Many elderly with dementia exhibit this behavior.

Staff knows where to go hunting if something important is missing.
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Bless you and your father. Please know that he can no longer recognize what he is doing is wrong - it is why he is where he is - the staff has seen it all so please don't be embarrassed by his behavior. Don't lecture him about his behavior - as he told you he "bought them" for you and your family which is what he most likely believes. VISIT his world and thank him for being so generous and thoughtful and take the items and deliver to the staff for redistribution.

Like a previous poster wrote he is kind of a magpie finding and collecting treasures that interest him - try and find the humor to the situation. And as another poster wrote what is missing from dad's room that some other magpie spied.

Just love him and accept his behavior for what it is - a part of the disease.
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Loralovesbread1 Jul 25, 2021
Thank you for your kind words and confirmation that Dad's behavior is a normal part of dementia.
The employees DO know what Dad is doing. They tell other residents do it as well, to a degree. They never seem upset and they know I will return whatever he gives me or I find each week.
I am taken back by this particular behavior. Perhaps because it's the most recent? It's very different from whom and how he once was. His dementia is showing greater progression.
I need to stop reacting to it by accepting the items he gives me so I can ensure I give them to the staff and they can sort out who the items belong to. Thankfully, his facility is small, less than 40 residents, and most family members have written residents names on their items such as shoes, clothing, glasses and their cases.
You suggested I find humor in his behavior, I think you are right, I should. A few pairs of shoes, shirts, pants and blankets I have bought Dad have gone missing. I had assumed he gave them to other residents. He seems to find joy in giving. These were items I did not label with his name, so I decided not to tell the staff or worry about it. Since his stealing became worse, I started writing his name on his items. Then he and the staff are certain these items are really his. Dad doesn't like wearing his own dentures, so I hope it's safe to think he won't take anyone elses. He also refuses to wear a hearing aid, so that seems like a safe bet he won't take those. Well, at least for now.
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This is VERY common. I would be surprised if some of his things are missing and could be found in another residents room waiting for their son or daughter to come visit.
When you visit thank dad very much and when you leave drop the items off at the desk.
I have a very funny story about this type of thing, I love cooking and baking. I suppose deep down in his brain my Husband remembered that. I went to pick him up where I had him for Day Care. My Husband ALWAYS wore a hat. I noticed as we were going to the car it was sitting slightly askew on his head. But I straightened it out and we got to the car, I got him in and he buckled in, I pulled onto the street he took off his hat and under the hat was the Food Section from that days paper. My Husband would shoplift at stores. It got to the point that when we got to the exit I would stop him by the security stationed at the door and I would frisk him. I would then hand over all the items I found in his pocket.
MC staff is well aware of the "shopping" that goes on. The important thing is they track down expensive and difficult to replace items like hearing aids, dentures, glasses and the like.
There are far more important things to stress about let this one go.
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Reply to Grandma1954
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Loralovesbread1 Jul 25, 2021
Thank you for your kind words, sharing your situation and confirming that his behavior is a normal part of dementia.
The staff does know what Dad is doing. They tell me he is not the only resident who does this. They never seem upset and they know I will return whatever he gives me or I find each week.
I find I am taken back by this particular behavior. Perhaps because it's the most recent. It's also very different from whom he was and how he was. Additionally, his dementia shows greater progression.
I need to stop reacting to it by accepting the items he gives me so I can ensure I give them to the staff and they can sort out who the items belong to. Thankfully, his facility is small, less than 40 residents and most family members have written their names on their items such as shoes, clothing, glasses and their cases. Dad doesn't like wearing his own dentures, so I hope it's safe to think he won't take anyone elses. He also refuses to wear a hearing aid, so that seems like a safe bet he won't take those, either. Well, at least for now.
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I have a device that permits me to see and speak with my wife in her room. One day I called in to her in the hope that she was in her room so we could talk. One of the residents on seeing the door open walked right in and started rifling through my wife's nightstand. Lesson learned. Nothing of value is kept in her room now. No cell phone, no iPad, absolutely no jewelry, and I've taken her wedding bands also. What does end up floating from room to room are cards, newspapers and magazines. My wife's room is just off of the main activity room, and residents have even gone into her room and sat in her chair to read her newspaper - oh, and yes, they use her toilet as well. They simply think they are in their own room and have no mental filters to know the difference.
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Reply to jmnov27
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the answer is yes. even though my dad (who had dementia and in NH for 6 years) never took anything, his roommate did. i took in a type of board that I put pictures on and set it up on his dresser so he could see it. one day i visited and it was sitting behind the dresser with all pictures gone. i said something to one of the nurses and low/behold.....the room mate had them in his photo album (he was not in the room at the time), i identified each one and then I took them home and just didn't bother cause I don't think my dad at that time even looked at them very much. i put up a red/white/blue star on their door since they were both veterans. Don't feel embarrassed as the staff knows this is normal behavior. and don't bother saying anything to your father because he will NOT understand. just take what he gives you and drop off at nurses station like you have been doing. And you might even ask your dad "do you have anything else that I might like" and then do the same thing. eventually he will stop doing it. it will stop on its own. wishing you luck.
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Reply to wolflover451
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It sounds like he’s having fun getting exercise, mental challenges, and excitement. He has found joy and purpose for himself in his community.

The reason this upsets you is he is not acting like himself. We are all going through this, as our loved ones change.

Others visit their loved ones (with similar challenges) to find them slumped and listless in a chair (likely drugged?) or even tethered to a bed with restraints, in physical discomfort and unable to move. It sounds like your dad’s home and nurses are wonderful!

Try your hardest to accept him as he is. No one is judging him. Dont let his behavior frustrate you. Don’t let this cloud your love for him or embarrass you. As long as this doesn’t pose a problem to the staff or other residents, don’t let it pose a problem for you.

It’s a good thing he is in memory care, no one could care for him at home.

I know someone in memory care who hides her things (even her glasses) in other people’s rooms and closets. She would gladly hide her things among your dad’s looted treasures and she would think that was great fun.
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Reply to ACaringDaughter
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The staff at the facility your father is in see this behavior every day. In fact they don't see a day where residents aren't stealing things or claiming to have been robbed. This is normal in a memory care facility.
Families make sure there isn't anything valuable which isn't easily replaced in their family member's room because the stealing among residents is so common.
I am however surprised that your father is able to fill up bags full of stolen items. That's excessive and the staff should be keeping a better eye on him during the day.
Elderly people stealing or claiming to have been stolen from is common with every kind of dementia and even when they don't have it. I can't tell you how many elderly clients I've worked for and even my own mother who didn't have dementia, but if they misplaced something would proclaim that someone took it. Your father's stealing is nothing that the staff at his memory care facility and every other facility around the world doesn't see every single day. So don't be embarrassed by it and don't be worried.
Some people believe the best approach is to just accept the stolen items and return them to whoever they belong to or to the staff.
I never took that approach. Whenever a resident at the facility I worked for would try to give me something I knew was stolen from another resident, I would not accept it. Not unkindly I would tell them that the item is not theirs to give and to stay out of other people's rooms. When residents would flood my office during the day claiming to have been robbed by other residents, I'd tell them someone will look into it.
Facility staff gets to know their residents and who does what. We had a woman in the facility whose family used to make sure she always had a supply of those soft butterscotch candies because she loved them. She'd try to give them out to all the aides and residents and staff members. Then she'd claim that some resident stole her candy. We never fussed about it. The staff at your father's facility doesn't either.
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Reply to BurntCaregiver
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In my Mom's MC unit, they refer to it as "shopping". Please let your self get over it ( said with a warm smile and a hug). It is part of the disease. That is why you never leave anything of value or sentiment there. When I visit, I sweep the room removing things, check with the staff for items I don't see, checked the clothes lost and found etc. Reminding him is futile, he can not remember/ does not understand. Forgive him and move on, it is not a battle you can win.
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