Leblanc: When dementia patients lose their things

“I just put it down here a minute ago! It has to be here!” If you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, this may become a common question that you might hear several times each day. My advice? Get used to it.

You’ll soon find your loved one has developed a new habit of hoarding or collecting things. He or she might have found new hiding places so secretive, you’ll wish you had thought of them yourself. Being a book lover and seller, my dad would stockpile any book he could get his hands on. As caregivers we must learn to go with the flow of things. Like in my dad’s case, you may even find that this newly found habit helps keep your loved one calm.

My father found solace in the pile of books he kept stacked in front of him at our kitchen table. Hey, if it comforted him to eat surrounded by books, so be it. Eventually the pile got so big that I had to install a shelf along the wall next to the table. At times we had just enough room for two dinner plates, and just barely were able to see each other.

He and I had been booksellers for years, so these were items from which he took comfort and also to which he could relate — especially pricing them. One day as I looked over the books on the table, I noticed he had priced our local Yellow Pages! It got to the point where if I found myself missing a book, there was a 95 percent chance it had become part of his priced collection.

I hate to say this, but if you’re caring for a person who is cognitively impaired, a time will come when you might have to lock certain cabinets or drawers to protect and preserve important possessions.

Once I spent several days checking every crack and crevice throughout our house searching for my missing wallet. I hadn’t left home in days so I knew it had to be there somewhere. When asking my father over and over if he had seen my billfold, I repeatedly received the same reply: “No, did you lose it?” I finally asked him to stand up. While “patting him down,” I found it in his left back pocket. His was in his right.

I know you’re thinking I should have used common sense and checked his pockets first, but we have to be sensitive in how we handle things. I simply put my newly rediscovered wallet back in my own pocket and told him his brown one and my black one looked almost identical. Then I patted him on his back and left the matter alone, never to be mentioned again.

Try not to upset them. They are always just a hair away from bouts of depression. They’re storing so much sorrow inside their souls that if they had to stash all that emotion, they’d need a bigger hiding place.

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