People with Alzheimer's Disease Often Rummage, Hide Things

by Dorian Martin Patient Advocate

My mother struggled with mild cognitive impairment for four years before being officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Once that diagnosis was made, she was placed in a locked unit at a nursing home near me because of the skilled nursing care she needed due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. That meant she didn't head back to my parents' home, which at the time was located eight hours away from where I lived.

That left Dad to go through the house with the help of a friend and prepare for an estate sale of many of their things since he would be downsizing to move to a much smaller residence near me. In the sale were several opened boxes of tissues that Mom often carried around with her. Upon hearing of these sales, I laughingly noted that somebody may have gotten a real deal on those tissue boxes since Mom often would squirrel away things - pairs of reading glasses, a television remote control - in them.

In some ways, this wasn't a surprise to me since my maternal grandmother, who had dementia, had also rummaged around and took things to hide. Grandma was drawn to shiny objects and ended up grabbing sparkly buttons from my parents' fabric store. In fact, Mom kept the box of "found items" that Grandma had taken and that box now is mine.

But it turns out that people with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's can rummage for and hide things that are more dangerous than reading glasses, television remove controls and sparkly buttons. In fact while discussing the topic of this sharepost, Dad just told me that he found a significant stash of Mom's COPD medications that she had hidden away that was worth approximately $1,000 (or more).

Rummaging is a very common behavior during the early and middle stages of Alzheimer's disease. Fortunately, there are steps to can be taken to protect your belongings while keeping the person who has Alzheimer's safe.
These steps include:

  • Making sure that dangerous or toxic products are locked up or placed out of the person's reach and sight.

  • Remove valuables such as jewelry, charge cards, keys and important papers that could be misplaced or hidden.

  • Make sure that spoiled food is removed from the refrigerator and cabinets. This is important because a person with Alzheimer's may have an impaired sense of taste or lack the judgment to realize that those items are spoiled.

  • If you get important mail (bills, etc.), consider getting a post office box or a mailbox that the person who has Alzheimer's can't open. Otherwise, the person may hide, lose or throw away important mail that you end up never seeing.

  • Consider setting up a special place where the person with Alzheimer's can rummage, such as a chest of drawers, a bag of objects or a specific closet. Mom ended up doing this once she realized that Grandma was drawn to shiny objects. Mom gave Grandma that box and would occasionally set out shiny buttons for Grandma to "find" in her room.

  • Make sure that you seal off rooms where you don't want the person with Alzheimer's disease to rummage. That way, you're limiting what they can find and where they can hide things.

  • Identify where the person with Alzheimer's disease hides things and then regularly check these places out without the person knowing it.

  • Help the person look for things.

  • If you have to remove an item that the person has hidden, replace it with something else.

  • Cover all trash cans or keep them out of sight so that the person with Alzheimer's doesn't rummage through them.

  • Also, double-check trash containers to make sure that something hasn't been hidden there before emptying them. That way, you can make sure that you don't accidentally throw away something valuable that the person with Alzheimer's has hidden there. (nd). Coping with difficult behavior.

National Institute on Aging. (2012). Alzheimer's caregiving tips: Rummaging and hiding things.

Dorian Martin
Meet Our Writer
Dorian Martin

Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.