“Mom, why do you have an entire shelf of plastic take-home containers?”
“I might need them someday.”
My mother’s answer is the same no matter what I ask. Plastic Cool Whip containers, empty sour cream tubs, tiny lidded bowls that once contained sauce. Old towels, empty coffee cans, and plastic bags of every size and shape, fill her cupboards, drawers, and garage.
My mom is also fixated on her finances. She balances her checkbook once a month, then puts all the numbers onto a budget sheet. All her figures must match to the penny. More often than not, they don’t. She’ll spend hours adding, subtracting, and trying to find where she’s made an error. As I write this, she’s on her third day of working her budget. It’s already the middle of November, but she’s stuck on October.
According to experts in aging, obsessive behavior, like my mom’s can be a sign of dementia. Some people insist on checking and rechecking locked doors. Others need to have a rigid schedule. Still others buy food items every time they go to the store, despite having multiples of the same thing in the pantry.
What is Dementia?
According to AgingCare.com, dementia is not a specific disease. It is a term used to describe a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of different dementia disorders that affect the brain. People with dementia have significantly impaired intellectual functioning that interferes with normal activities and relationships. They also lose their ability to solve problems and maintain emotional control, and they may experience personality changes and behavioral problems, such as agitation, delusions, and hallucinations.
A stroke can facilitate the onset of symptoms of dementia.
My mother has always maintained a collection of empty jars and containers, but since her stroke, the obsession has worsened. It seems that every fast food container is washed, rinsed, and stored, despite already having dozens. If I challenge her, she gets agitated, and insists I leave them for her ‘just in case’ scenario.
What can a Caregiver Do?
Have patience. I can’t stress enough how important it is to deal gently with an aging loved one.
Use caution. It’s important to respect your loved one’s boundaries. My mother gets mad when I move her things or when I throw something away that I think is useless. This is compounded because we live with her.
Communicate. I’ve always been a ‘throw it away’ kind of girl. Mom is opposite. She grew up during the Great Depression. She believes everything has a life beyond what it is intended for.
She still has clothing from the 70’s. I’m not kidding. They are beyond retro.
If you feel your loved one’s obsession is out of control, contact a medical professional. He or she can evaluate your loved one to see if there is medication available to help. There could be underlying anxiety or depression. Your mom or dad may feel their world is getting more difficult to grasp, resulting in obsessions or compulsions to help compensate.
For more information, check out www.agingcare.com/demetia
Jane S. Daly is the author of two books, Because of Grace (2015) and The Caregiving Season (2016). She is also the treasurer of Inspire Christian Writers and West Coast Christian Writers.