My Partner Keeps Hiding Things — What Should I Do? [Dementia]

October 13, 2023
April 2, 2022
Posted by
Bre'anna Wilson
April 2, 2022
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053 | My Partner Keeps Hiding Things – What Should I Do?

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In February, I received two questions around the same time. The first question was around hiding things and how you would modify that behavior. In this case, she stated that her loved one would misplace things like her checkbook, mail, small valuable items and then get extremely anxious and cry. The second question I received was "What can I do when the patient misplaces items around the house? Is there a typical hiding place?"  

So, these are both very loaded questions because how you would approach the situation depends on a number of things. Let's first clarify a bit what the focus of this blog post will be about. Some of you may be dealing with accusations — this could be because your partner has hid or misplaced something and doesn't remember and so they then blame you for its disappearance. Some of you may dealing with a similar issue to the lady we received a message from in that the misplacement of the items is causing your partner a lot of distress when they can't remember or find where they put something. And then, some of you may be dealing with loved ones who hide or even throw away YOUR possessions...their own too, but the situation is causing you distress because you can't find what you need or something important to you has gotten thrown away.  

In this blog post, we aren't going to talk about dealing with accusations, okay? We are going to solely focus on the act of your partner hiding things and it causing distress for them because they can't find their stuff or you because you can't find your stuff okay.

Now, let me start by saying you may not be able to completely stop your partner from hiding things, which Is why I loved when I was asked how to MODIFY the behavior. To best figure out how you can intervene, you first have to understand why they are hiding things to begin with and when the behavior started. There's so many things to think about and sometimes they may say things that can clue you into what may be triggering the behavior. Maybe they've mentioned that someone has stolen from them in the past or that people have messed with their stuff, maybe they've mentioned distrust of someone in the house — this could be a person that actually lives there or doesn't. This could even be triggered by real or imagined events. But, one thing I don't want you to get caught up on is whether the situation is real or imagined, because for the person living with dementia it is all real, okay?

Also, it's important to realize that they may not be intentionally hiding things, but simply putting things where they don't belong. This could be because they got distracted while handling something and put it down somewhere random — I'm super guilty of this. They could also be putting things where they don't belong because they are unable to distinguish between what's important, what's not; what is theirs, what's not, what they have business fooling with, what they don't or because they are having difficulty identifying an object and its purpose all together, which can result in objects being placed in odd places. There's a lot that can be going on. And sometimes the object in question doesn't actually exist in real time, maybe it's never existed, or maybe it's something they use to have years ago and is no longer in their possession. So whatever the case, if they are hiding actual objects you are going to have to do some detective work to see what may be the reason your partner is seemingly hiding things.  

Now, regardless of if an object is misidentified or purposely hidden, they can really end up anywhere in the house. But let me tell you a few common places: under mattresses, in random drawers throughout the house, under rugs, in plants, in the refrigerator/freezer, washer/dryer, in the couch, inside shoes, underneath lamps, a random box or container, coat pockets, inside pockets in a purse, unfortunately, even the sink drain or trash can. Really, anywhere that can be lifted, opened, or tucked into.  

Some people have pretty standard hiding places and for some it's just the most convenient location, or the location that makes the most sense to them at the time. If you have cameras in your home or if you can keep a discreet, but watchful eye on your partner this may help you locate some of the hiding places, but sometimes they can get really creative and it's still hard to figure it out. If you do happen to find objects in places they don't belong or discover one of your partner's hiding places, I definitely recommend you keep a journal and write them down. They may gravitate towards the same places or you may start to notice patterns.  

Let's talk about some general tips for what you can do. Please keep in mind that all of these tips may not be relevant to your situation depending on what you've learned about your partner's specific situation. Use what you can and table the rest! 😊  

Tip #1:

Modify the environment

With environmental modification, the number 1 priority is always safety. So, if there's something you don't want your partner fooling with because it's personal, hazardous, dangerous, or for any other reason — put it up. Put it somewhere it can't be reached or lock it up. If there's a lot of clutter throughout the home, you may find cleaning up and organizing to be helpful too as the more there is laying around, the more there will potentially be to mess with. Also, the tidier your home they easier it will be to find misplaced items.  

You'll also want to try to eliminate or limit hiding places as best you can.

For example:

–If your partner likes to stick things in sink drains, then for one you may want to disconnect the garbage disposal as that can lead to a dangerous situation and install drain traps or disposal strainers.  

–If you partner likes to stuff things under the rugs. It may be worth getting rid of throw rugs as they are a significant tripping hazard anyway.  

–If your partner loves the drawers and closets you can introduce locks or hard to open latches on ones they have no business being in.  

–If trash cans are a go to place for items then keeping smaller trash cans and checking them regularly and definitely before throwing out may be helpful.  

Another thing you can do is create designated places for items your partner has a tendency to hide. This is something you will have to collaborate with your partner on and the more you can make it seem like their idea, the better. So, when relevant, you can say something like, "What do you think about putting {fill in the blank} in here?" When y'all agree on a place or location such a letter tray if it's mail, a hook if it's key, a keepsake box, or like a catch all drawer  — whatever works — you want to make sure that you label it so that it can be easily identified. This can be with just words or words and a picture, if it helps. When you label it you don't want to just label it something random that you think is fitting, you want to label it something THEY think is fitting and that makes sense to them. Now, depending on how far along your partner is on their dementia journey, you may have to remind them to use it, or if something comes up missing and is later found remind them where to place it. Definitely keep in mind the method may have to be adjusted over time or in general, especially if they don't tend to use it. There can be some trial-and-error involved.

Tip #2: If it's something you can make or get a copy or duplicate of, make or get a copy or duplicate of it. For example, glasses, keys, important docs that you partner won't give up (you can make them a copy and keep the original in safe place) — in most cases you aren't going to want to tell them this per say, you just kinda do it.  

Tip #3: If they are open to you keeping things like important docs, a checkbook or credit/debit cards, meds, passport or ID cards in a safe place this can be an arrangement you can try and assure them that they can ask for it whenever they need it. Some people will be open to this and some just won't.  

Tip #4:

Invest in locator devices

This can be helpful for keys and wallets. You can try an Apple airtag or tile — something like that. For a long time, I actually had a tile on my keys and in my wallet because I was always misplacing them (and I still do), but, the battery died and I never replaced it. So, definitely make sure if the locator device requires a battery that you replace it or it won't be of much use!

Tip #5: For an item that has already been placed in an unknown location, you can offer to help them find it and reassure them that you are sure it will come up. If you can’t find it right away, you could maybe redirect by saying, "Well, I haven’t found it just yet, but I’m going to keep trying. In the meantime, would you like to {fill in the blank}.” This way they may be able to take her mind off it for a bit. When you redirect, make sure you redirect to something they wouldn't mind doing. Like for example, if it were me I wouldn't want to be redirected to go for a walk with you because, well that's not fun to me lol. So, make sure it something that makes sense for your partner.  

The biggest thing with any of these tips is that you want to frame it that you are on their side, you understand their perspective, and are trying your best to help. But again, you also want to make it seem like their idea. "What do you think about this?" "Maybe we could try...{fill in the blank}. How does that sound?" Things like that. You don't just want to tell them what you are going to do about THEIR situation. Now, they might say no.... they don't like your idea, but in saying that, it may also open the door to have a conversation about what THEY think may work for them. Again, there may be some trial-and-error, but that's how it is with most things. Also, keep in mind that if they think YOU are the problem and that you are the one stealing from them or there's just a general sense of distrust, if there's another family member in the house that they trust more then it may be helpful for them to be the one to intervene vs. You. Okay?

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