Alzheimer's art

If she just started staying with you, then she might be looking for something familiar, something that will offer her some security and sense of comfort.

Rummaging is very common in individuals with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The individual is easily disoriented, so the practice of rummaging becomes a coping mechanism, a means of reassurance and a quest to fulfill a need.

The individual may start searching through drawers, cabinets, closets or other storage areas, possibly looking for something specific. Though your mom may not be able to communicate what she is looking for, try to discern what is causing this type of behavior. Is she bored? Is she missing something she feels she needs? Is there something she has an emotional attachment to and she might be searching for that item? Is she hiding something she feels needs protecting from others?

Rummaging, though an activity that might keep your mother occupied, can oftentimes be dangerous for Alzheimer’s-affected individuals. For instance, toxic products and potentially dangerous products under kitchen or bathroom sinks should be locked up and placed out of the individual's sight, as they may see these as beverages or something to consume.

Similarly, spoiled or expired food items in the refrigerator or the pantry should be removed as those with dementia lack judgment or sense of taste to know they are spoiled.

Additionally, it is a good idea to keep trash cans in the house covered, as oftentimes, the container looks attractive and the individual cannot distinguish its use so he or she either rummages through the trash or uses it as a hiding place for items he or she wishes to hide. With regards to the latter, always check the garbage cans before emptying them as the garbage can could be an enticing container of which to “hide” things (including dentures and hearing aids).

Did something trigger your mom’s rummaging behavior? Does she start this behavior at a certain time of day? Was she feeling bored, agitated or restless?

Try to stick to a structured routine as much as possible with your mom as the routine and rhythm of the day can reduce her anxiety that may cause her to start rummaging.

Since rummaging can occur all through the house, you may want to shut off the doors of unused rooms to set boundaries and keep your mom in certain areas. It would be a good idea to create a personal "rummaging space" by dedicating a big trunk, large container or even an old toy box for your mom to rummage through freely. You can place familiar items in it, such as clothes, towels, photo albums, scarves, old keys, purses and duplicate items of things she keeps losing. This will not only limit her rummaging to one area but will also give her something to do. She may feel purposeful in folding the towels or clothes or enjoy looking at photos, digging through old purses or just admiring the items in the box. Seeing and touching the items provides a sensory experience and a connection to something, which can provide her with great assurance and comfort.

Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at