People with dementia WILL move your stuff around

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…and that’s okay, because it’s really normal.

This is a hard thing for a lot of caregivers, including ones who work in senior living communities. 

Everywhere that I have worked, I’ve set up different interactive stations for my residents with dementia. These stations include places like a baby doll nursery or even an interactive kitchen. 

Anytime I’ve set one of these places up, some members of the staff complain. “But the residents take the baby dolls!” they’ll say. “They put them in their rooms and then we have to go get them.”

My response is always the same: “So what?”

The point of these interactive stations is for residents to do just that: take items that interest them, and move them around. Is it a little annoying when things go missing? Yes, of course it is. But, that’s the point: residents should be able to interact with their environment.

I have also had family caregivers complain of the same thing with their loved ones at home. “My dad takes all of the socks out of his drawer, and then he puts them in the kitchen,” one woman said to me. “How do I get him to stop doing that?”

While that is an annoying thing (having to go collect socks every day) it is not really that bad of a behavior. Her father probably thought he was being helpful. Dementia is a group of brain diseases—it changes the way that the person interacts with and understands the world. For one reason or another, moving socks from the drawer to the kitchen made sense to this man.

So, the conclusion is this: people with dementia will move your stuff. They’ll pick it up, enjoy it for a while, and then go stash it somewhere else. That’s normal. 

The key is for you to spend a couple extra minutes putting it back where it came from, so they can relocate it again the next day.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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