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What is Rummaging – why does it happen and how do I cope with it?

What is it?

It is not uncommon to see someone living with Dementia repeatedly rummaging through drawers and cupboards, often seemingly rearranging the contents, or emptying them out and then putting the contents back; they might then move to a different drawer or cupboard, and start the whole process again.

This behavior is known as Rummaging, and it is something that does sometimes manifest itself as Alzheimer’s Disease, or other forms of Dementia develop.

It is important for a Caregiver to be aware of it, to understand what it is and perhaps have a strategy to cope with it when it occurs as, otherwise, it is an activity that can be extremely frustrating to watch because, frankly, it can create a real mess in a tidy room! In some cases, entire drawers may be emptied out, with the contents either strewn around the room, or perhaps hidden in different places – this can be challenging at the end of what may have already been a stressful day.

Why does it happen?

Rummaging may manifest itself as an expression of anxiety on the part of the person living with dementia; it may be that they are anxiously looking for a specific item that they believe they had placed in that drawer and if they can’t find it they might jump to the conclusion that it has been stolen.

However, rummaging may also manifest itself as an enjoyable activity, where someone is simply looking through familiar items that bring comfort; it’s not uncommon for someone living with dementia to feel happier if they are surrounded by, or close to things that bring them comfort, and this can sometimes lead them to remove items from one location in order to hide them, or even hoard them somewhere else.

Equally, rummaging may be a manifestation of simple boredom; having a good “sort out” can be a way of finding something to do.

Rummaging is basically a coping mechanism, a way for the person living with dementia to cope with disorientation, or insecurity that is caused by the condition they are living with

How do I cope with it?

The first step is to take a breath and remember that it is the Dementia that is causing the person you are caring for to rummage; it is absolutely not the case that they are deliberately doing this to bother you and add to your already heavy workload. Understanding and remembering this will help you to respond without arguments, which will avoid conflicts, which in turn will lower the stress level.

While the first instinct, particularly for someone with an orderly, tidy mindset, might be to put a stop to the rummaging, it is important to take a moment and try to understand why it is happening, and perhaps take steps instead to “manage” it, rather than stop it, particularly if, as mentioned above, it is an activity that seems to be bringing comfort, or alleviating boredom for the person doing the rummaging. Trying to stop the rummaging may increase levels of paranoia or agitation, raising stress levels and the potential for conflict, something that is far less likely to happen if the rummaging is managed, rather than prohibited

Managing the activity would include things such as:

Remove from all accessible drawers and cupboards any potentially harmful items. Make sure for example that things such as scissors, knives or needles have all been removed and stored somewhere that is either locked, or inaccessible. Remember that cleaning fluids may be confused with simple beverages and keep them somewhere safe.

If the rummaging activity does appear to be based on anxiety, try to find out what is driving that anxiety; are they looking for a specific item which they believe might be in that drawer but does seem to have been misplaced? Some caregivers have in this situation found a replacement item that looks the same or similar, which has solved the anxiety that had caused the rummaging.

Rummaging may extend from a drawer or cupboard to a refrigerator, so keep an eye on food items that may be past their sell-by date, or raw meats, and either remove them or try to make them inaccessible.

Take steps to remove any valuable or important items – cash, jewelry, keys, passports or credit cards and keep them somewhere inaccessible.

Consider creating a Rummaging Box, or Drawer, that is filled with familiar items, or items that you know may trigger happy memories, such as family photographs, or items that are familiar and special, such as a purse, clothes, or scarf or other mementos – going though these things can provide a positive experience and a connection to good memories, which can increase feelings of comfort or security.

Keep trash cans out of sight if possible as someone rummaging may not be able to discern the difference between them and a drawer or cupboard. It is also a good idea to check the contents of the trash can before disposal, to make sure that no items have been hidden or placed in there that should not be thrown away.

Rummaging can take place anywhere in the house so perhaps try to keep restricted access to certain rooms.

In summary, a patient and well thought out approach to rummaging can address its challenges and even turn it into a worthwhile and fulfilling activity.

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Benefits of Activities: Benefits for Caregivers

It is the hope of most folks to be in their own home for as long as possible. Home caregivers (usually family members) make this possible longer for people who suffer from dementia or other neurological or physiological conditions by helping their loved ones adapt to and cope with limitations in ability, mobility, communication and cognition.

The caregiver is constantly working to stabilize or lessen the progression of disorders with exercise, nutrition, activity, hygiene and generally some mix of medicinal schedules. It can be a very hard and often heartbreaking job, yet so many take it on as a labor of love.

Studies have shown that “the health and general well-being” of a family caregiver can have a direct impact on the quality of life and success of therapy for dementia patients in their care.

Additionally, research indicates that dementia patients have higher rates of behavioral symptoms and mortality when cared for by carers who are stressed, use emotion-based coping (e.g., wishing that the disease would go away), or negative communication strategies.

Finding an effective coping mechanism for both the patient and the caregiver are important for all involved, as everyone’s health and well-being are inter-connected and inter-dependent.
Happily, there are many resources for the family caregiver to call on to help with the daunting and difficult task of providing home care for their loved one. Understanding the changing needs and communication strategies of their charges is an important factor in successfully managing a home care situation.

One such sources was provided by the Lewy Body Dementia association, found online here (, the document helps to set expectations about caring for people with dementia, and also offers a helpful section titled “Care for the Caregiver” that includes common sense suggestions for maintaining personal equilibrium in the face of such demanding and difficult work.

Many other sources for information and helpful resources for the caregiver can be found online, with many different organizations providing helpful resources for home caregiving needs.
If you need help with finding and connecting with useful resources, drop us an email at and we’ll be happy to pass on any information we have available.

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Dementia and Excessive Sleepiness

Excessive daytime sleepiness can be a problem for many folks, especially the senior population. This condition is often related to inadequate or fragmented night-time sleep and can be a resulting condition of a number of other related conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and a number of other dementias.

Here are some non-drug treatments tips to help your loved one stay active throughout the day so they and you get a full sleep at night, hopefully without interruption:
• Participate in activities that may be helpful in providing stimulation to prevent daytime dozing.
• Get physical exercise appropriate to your level of functioning, which may also promote daytime wakefulness.
• Avoid sedentary activities during the day.
• Establish good sleep hygiene, including a set bedtime and wake-up time.

Of course, treating the issues preventing adequate nighttime sleep will go a long way toward alleviating the issue of excessive daytime sleepiness. In addition to and parallel to that treatment, the tips listed above may help mitigate the issue, even if there is also a pharmacological element involved as medicine prescribed for other conditions may contribute to sleep disruption issues.

In addition to the non-drug treatment tips offered by the National Parkinson Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association also suggests other ways to improve sleep routines such as discouraging intake of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants in the hours before bedtime and limiting television viewing during periods of wakefulness during regular sleeping hours.

Daytime napping and “sundowning” can be serious issues for those with dementia. As sleep and the quality of rest obtained can have a large impact on both physical health and quality of life, sleep issues can have a large impact on every aspect of an individual’s life.

In addition to careful consultation with your doctor concerning sleep disruptions and other medical issues and drug interactions, there are a number of non-medicinal approaches to improving sleep habits and minimizing sleep disrupting conditions. Among the recommendations of many sources offering suggestions for better sleep habits is the discouragement of daytime napping and the encouragement of participating in more activities during the day.