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Monday, December 22, 2008 Lisa Hill, Community Member, asks

Q: Do people with Dementia/Alzheimers in the beginning stages resort to stealing ?

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Answers (6)
Dorian Martin, Health Guide
12/22/08 2:09pm

Hi, Lisa,


I'm not sure what you're meaning by stealing, but I do know that in my grandmother's case, she was drawn to shiny objects (like sparkly buttons). So she would take those from wherever she saw them. I don't think she had a concept of stealing at that point.


My mom didn't take things, but instead hoarded items. For instance, she would carry a Kleenex box with her around the house. In the Kleenex box, she stashed a variety of things - pencils for her crossword puzzle, reading glasses, and at times, a TV remote control. She'd forget where she put all of these things, would start a new Kleenex box, and then hoard stuff in that one. She had multiple Kleenex boxes going all the time.


Hope this helps! Take care and keep us posted!



CINDY, Community Member
1/ 2/12 6:35pm


My mother started hoearding 14 umbrellas, 30 pounds of cheese, 6 pounds of tomatoes etc, 3 gallons of OJ. We just found out she was arrested for petty theft. The police took her in finger printed her and the whole process. She kept it from us but we found the police papers. Then iN sept a man appeared at th edoor after Renie walked into their front yard and cut six handfules of fresh flowers. My question is does she know she is stealing?  I have confronted her but she doesnt seem to be bothered. Renie's answer to me was are they going to do to an old lady. I aM FRUSTRATED AND WORRIED.




Carol Bradley Bursack, Health Guide
12/22/08 4:10pm

It certainly can happen, but it isn't really "stealing." They often think that something is theirs. What comes to my mind is a bleakly funny situation with my uncle and another man, both of whom were in the same nursing home.


The other man had Alzheimer's (my uncle had vascular dementia from strokes). The man would come into my uncle's room and take things, but it was the tissue box that was the prize. I would walk in and the two red-faced men would be playing tug-of-war over a tissue box! They both considered it theirs (it was my uncle's, but he could have another).


My take on the "stealing" is simply a case of not understanding what a belonging is or to whom it belongs - or even what it is for. Maybe the person thinks it's pretty.


If the stage is very early, there could be something going on that medication could help, but I don't think it's dishonesty that is suddenly rearing up.


AFA Social Services, Health Guide
12/24/08 11:25am

It is important to understand the concept of stealing in order to properly answer this question. Most cases of stealing in healthy individuals require some sort of intent. When an individual with dementia takes somebody else's belongings and refuses to return them, intent is usually not the cause. As a result of confusion, disorientation, and poor judgment, individuals with dementia could have either forgotten that they took this item to begin with, misplaced it and forgot its location, thought it belonged to them (possibly because they had a similar item in the past), or other reasons. This is not an uncommon behavior for people with dementia and should be treated with care and sensitivity. Also consider the fact that many individuals with dementia like to "hold on" to items, regardless of what they are, because they provide some sort of comfort via tactile stimulation. If someone takes another's sweater, it may not be because they are in need of a sweater, but because the soft warm material feels good on their hands or they are enticed by the color or texture of it. If you see that a person has taken an item that does not belong to them, it is important not to react as though they stole it. An easy trick is to simply wait a few minutes until the person has put the belonging aside and remove it from their view. It is also a good idea to replace it with something so that they don't feel a loss in case they do remember. Another helpful tactic is to provide the individual with a box of their favorite things. For example, if you have observed that someone tends to take coins, pencils, and pictures, you can easily give him or her a shoebox of these items so that they can hold onto them and feel a sense of ownership. In fact, if you would like to get creative, you can make a fun and stimulating activity of the whole process. If you find that Sally tends to take other peoples things, you can create a memory box with Sally by collecting some of her favorite items and reminisce with her about the meaning of them. By decorating the box with her name and/or picture on it, you can frequently redirect her to "Sally's box" every time she is in search of something.  

Connie Moore, Community Member
12/25/08 4:10am

Hi Lisa

my husband has alzheimers and everytime I clean out his room I amazed at the things I find. I don't think he is stealing but he does take things. Not from stores he never leaves the house. He goes through everything to include my purse and for what ever reason he takes things that he dosen't use and I am constanly trying to find keys or some other lost object that I don't know who took. Yes we have a I DIDN'T DO IT here. I think in his mind it is a game but can be bery frustrating for me. I have pretty much found his hiding spots so I look there first. I have had to chid/alzheimers proof my house. Dangerous or irreplaceable things have been locked up. They aren't being mean it's just the childish behavior coming out. Try locking things up especially things that would endanger them or you. Lock up valueables that can't be replaced. Explain to company this might happen and ask them to keep things locked up. For what ever their reason Alzheimers parients sundowns and this is mostly when they are up going through thing. With a little inguinity you will be able to deal with this and yes I think it is typical behavior. Connie

Mary, Community Member
12/27/08 8:31am

I don't think so.  If a person was taught at an early age that stealing is wrong and was punished for stealing they would remember this lesson.  Alzheimers in the early stage is a short term memory problem and the long term memory of not stealing because this is wrong to do would be in their memory bank.

Carol Bradley Bursack, Health Guide
1/ 3/12 9:02am

They often aren't stealing - they just don't remember what is theirs and what is not. When my uncle was in a nursing home, a man with AD would come into his room and take my uncle's things. Of course, my uncle was furious. The thing was, the man with AD simple saw an item and took it because he thought it was his. Impaired judgment is a sign of AD. Please be compassionate.

Take care,


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By Lisa Hill, Community Member— Last Modified: 11/27/13, First Published: 12/22/08