What is causing my mom to rummage through everything in my house while she is staying with me?

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. They 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 to which she has an emotional attachment and she’s looking for it? 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 under kitchen or bathroom sinks should be locked up and placed out of sight, as the individual may see them as beverages or something to consume. Similarly, spoiled or expired food should be removed as individuals lack judgment or 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. With regards to the latter, always check the garbage cans for hidden items before emptying.

Since rummaging can occur all through the house, you may want to close off unused rooms to set boundaries and keep your mom in certain areas. It would be a good idea to create a personal “rummaging space” for your mom by dedicating a big trunk, large container or even an old toy box for rummaging. You can place familiar items in it for her, such as clothes, towels, photo albums, scarves, old keys, purses, etc. 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, and/or just admiring the items in the box. Seeing and touching the items give her a connection to something.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.