Published on: October 23, 2017
by Nira Rittenberg for The Star:
A lot of individuals with dementia start looking through different places in search of items. I have witnessed this searching in the fridge, closets, cabinets and many other household locations.
It is critical to deal with the safety factor related to this behaviour. Rummaging, as it is often called, can end up with a person accessing things that are dangerous, such as: toxic products, household cleaning supplies or tools and equipment. Some people rummage and then taste the items that they open, so it is critical to look around and lock up areas that may pose a potential safety issue.
Some individuals take valuable or important items like chequebooks, jewelry, keys or important personal papers and place them in other locations. Ideally, you should ensure that these items couldn’t be found if a person is rummaging. Mail is also often a rummaging target that is easy to find.
If it were clear and evident why a person was rummaging it would be easier to contend with this behaviour. People with dementia may rummage for a variety of reasons. Some people may have a logical reason for this behaviour, as they may be thinking of something specific or are in search of something that has been recently triggered in their memory.
The person may or may not be able to tell you what it is that they are looking for. Sometimes, they may stumble across it, which will cease the behaviour. Other people keep searching and simply cannot express what they are looking for. If they can’t tell you, leave them be. It will be frustrating for both of you to try to figure it out.
Another common time people rummage is when they are hungry or thirsty. They may not be able to convey their need, so they set off in search of food. It is easy enough to see if a snack or a drink may interrupt this behaviour.
More often than not, it is hard to know exactly why a person with dementia rummages.
Boredom is another factor. They may not be able to properly occupy themselves. Finding some activities that can distract or interest them is another potential solution.
As with other issues in dementia, you may have to deal with the problem without ever figuring out its source. I frequently suggest closing off unused rooms. Often, things are hidden in the same spot over and over again. Check these “favourite” spots and if possible, minimize them. Garbage cans — and other containers that look inviting — should be stored out of sight.
Another possible solution is creating a designated rummage area. This can be set up in a place that is easy to monitor. Choose a location that can be seen easily and place items that are not dangerous to rummage through.
Old mail, pictures and other household items are good options to keep in this space. Redirecting someone to look in an area may keep them busy and distracted. I know of other caregivers who have used a designated rummage box and they hand it to the person to look through. Once the danger and concern of losing items is minimized, rummaging is not as much of a problem, it becomes relegated to a nuisance.
Like other difficult behaviours related to dementia, ensure that the person is in a safe environment and make sure to secure your things. Once that is done, hopefully this phase, like many other difficult phases, will pass.
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