Does this sound at all, unpleasantly familiar? “Where on earth did I put my keys? I hung them up last night when I got home, I think? Betty, have you seen my keys? I am late enough as it is. Are you sure you didn’t move them when you cleaned up last night?” And then it slowly dawns on you, as this nauseating churning in the pit of your stomach begins. “Betty! Check your mother’s room. Look in her closet behind the red shoes. See if they’re in there and hurry!” Sure enough, Betty saves the day and finds her hysterical husband’s keys and another mysterious case of the hoarder is solved.

Betty’s mother has Alzheimer’s disease and tends to take anything that suits her little fancy that’s lying around. Nothing is safe. Nothing is sacred.

The Alzheimer victim does not attach any particular monetary value on the things they take and hide. It could be a bar of used soap, a remote control, assorted shoes, socks or other pieces of clothing that do not fit them. So why do they do it?

No one really knows for sure, but there are a few theories out there and I will share some of mine with you.

They may pick something up, play with it a while and then forget where they got it from a few minutes later, so they just stash it out of sight.

They may be reliving their childhood days; a time when they were very poor and had very little. They exhibit “stockpiling” tendencies because they are fearful that later on they will be without once again and they might have need for the item. This behavior makes them feel secure and that, in a sense, they are providing for the future.

They may feel that they are helping out by cleaning up the clutter around the house.

A few creative ideas:

  1. Don’t leave important things lying around.
  2. Have duplicates of things you need and can’t live without like keys, hearing aide batteries and eyeglasses just in case your loved one pillages them.
  3. If you do not want your loved one to have access to specific drawers or cabinets, then secure them with childproofing hardware or locks.
  4. Get rid of the clutter.
  5. Look through your wastebaskets before the trash is thrown out.
  6. Take note where your loved one “stashes” things. They tend to return to the same location each time they retrieve their little trophy.
  7. Lock up some of the rooms in the house so that your residing hoarder has fewer places to hide things and you have fewer places to search.
  8. Make up their own little trays of fake jewelry, old keys (that do not work anymore!), and trinkets that are safe for them to pick up.
  9. Give them small shopping bags and a few old purses to satisfy their compulsion and keep them safely busy while you get your housework done.
  10. Don’t keep your money in plain sight.

The “Don’ts:

Don’t panic, scream, and cry in front of them.

Don’t yank your things out of their hands- offer to “trade” them instead.

Most importantly, don’t fail to keep your sense of humor. You’re going to need it!

Starr Calo-oy


  • Along with her husband, Bob, Starr Calo-oy has cared for the elderly in their home as an alternative to nursing home care, for the past 15 years. They specialize in Alzheimer's disease and the other related dementias, the terminally ill and the general elderly public.

    This couple discovered that the primary obstacle preventing families from turning over the care of their loved ones to a stranger for care, was guilt. After 15 years of personal family interviews, they have written "The Caring Caregivers Guide to Dealing with Guilt" to help families make this heart-wrenching decision.