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Senior Living

August 21, 2008

Q. My mother, who is 83 years old and in the second stage of Alzheimer’s, has become a hoarder. She treasures every little broken piece of glass that the neighborhood children give her. She also loves animals and currently has five cats, a dog and a cockatoo. She had 33 cats until the county health department made her get rid of 28 of them. She can’t keep the cat boxes clean any more and has lost her sense of smell. I want to get a caregiver for her, but can’t find anyone willing to also care for the animals. What can I do?My mother, who is 83 years old and in the second stage of Alzheimer’s, has become a hoarder. She treasures every little broken piece of glass that the neighborhood children give her. She also loves animals and currently has five cats, a dog and a cockatoo. She had 33 cats until the county health department made her get rid of 28 of them. She can’t keep the cat boxes clean any more and has lost her sense of smell. I want to get a caregiver for her, but can’t find anyone willing to also care for the animals. What can I do?

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— Lena, La Cañada ?

Unfortunately, this is more common than you might think, and there is not an easy solution. Hoarding is considered to be a variant of OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. It is not necessarily related to her having Alzheimer’s.

First of all, animals can be very important to someone with Alzheimer’s, because of the unconditional love and companionship they give. Also, those broken pieces of glass are “treasures” to her because she associates each one with a little child who cared enough about her to give her a gift. She sees those items as little “pieces of love” even though she may no longer remember which child gave her each item.

However, not being able to empty the litter boxes and not remembering to let the dog out in a timely manner has become a health and safety hazard. Mold and mildew may be building up in her home.

If you go in and remove what you consider “junk,” it will result in a major setback in her functioning. She might even call the police to report that her house has been robbed. More than likely, she will begin to fill it back up again. I suggest you talk to the neighbors, explain the situation and ask them not to bring her any more animals or pieces of glass.

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