Possessions do play a role in our wellbeing – taking the time to consider and then re-think which possessions will make a difference for the individual we are caring for is an important part of the role of a Personal Directive Agent.
When Mom moved into the dementia unit she was always worrying about her possessions. She was sure that others were stealing her things so she began to hide them, and then by forgetting both the action of hiding and her hiding places her worst fears were confirmed – her things were disappearing! All of Mom’s visitors were subject to a scavenger hunt for pens, pencils, paper, books, pictures, and clothing on a regular basis. Sometimes these items had been picked up by another resident, other times her things were in one of her hiding places. Finding her things in her room was tricky because that meant you were playing her for a fool somehow. Sometimes it was easier to “find” her things while she was at lunch and share them “newly found” with her on her return.
After some time, and as her disease progressed, Mom’s inhibitions were falling away and she took to wandering into other resident’s rooms. While visiting, she sometimes took a fancy to the things other people had – for a while it was socks, later it was greeting cards. These things would turn up in Mom’s room, and her family would sneak them away, passing them on to the staff to return to their rightful owners.
Remember that these behaviours are a normal part of the disease. Try no to over worry and it’s never a good idea to scold a person with dementia. They won’t remember having collected items that don’t belong to them, and they won’t remember the item after you’ve taken it away – they will only remember how you’ve made them feel.
Understanding concerns about their possessions and reassuring them is part of the role of a Personal Directive Agent. Another part of the role is understanding how their concerns and experiences may affect their relationship with certain possessions. For example, prior to admission to care our mom loved to wear necklaces. After she was admitted, Mom did not want any jewelry as she was seriously concerned about it being stolen. As a result, she asked us to take it all away. A friend’s mom was always worried about needing money, but worried incessantly about its safety. A happy solution was found when she accepted Canadian Tire money for her wallet – somehow, she still felt like she had money, but was cognizant enough to know losing that money wasn’t as big a worry.
Don’t be afraid to step into their reality, and explore solutions that make sense for them. While dementia care adds some challenges, anyone moving into extended care will have concerns about possessions that need to be addressed. In our Personal Directive Agent’s Workbook, we encourage discussions in advance of moves that will help you understand which possessions are important and why.