Behaviors as Communication: Collecting

This blog is a continuation of our series on Behaviors as Communication. To read other entries in the series, please click through to one of the following links below:

What is it?

Similar to Agitation, Collecting – also known as Hoarding – is a Behavior that Communicates the specific needs of an individual affected by memory loss. The ability to identify and resolve the unmet needs of Collecting will help provide greater peace of mind for the individual, their loved one, and care staff who are experiencing this behavior. Collecting can look different for each individual along with the cause or reason for their collecting habits. For some, they are intentional and specific about what items they select and add to their collection. For others, it can be anything and everything – they are not picky. If an individual displayed hoarding behavior prior in life, chances are that with memory loss, this behavior will become even more pronounced as the disease progresses.

Remember that when Collecting Behavior is displayed, this is typically communicating an unmet need. Even though it may be frustrating, stressful, or difficult to experience, this is not the intent of the individual but rather their disease process manifesting itself. This behavior is attempting to communicate that a need has not been met, or that something is causing stress or anxiety.

Identifying the Cause

Collecting is typically driven by an internal and emotional response, although external factors can play a role in this behavior. Below are a few helpful questions for evaluating the cause of the agitation. This is not a comprehensive list but should offer some good suggestions on where to start.

Security + Control

Has the individual recently experienced a large change in their life?

Transitioning from independent living into Assisted Living, or even Memory Care is a difficult change for many. Collecting or Hoarding Behaviors can come out of a lack of control or perception of insecurity. For memory care residents or even those who no longer live independently, this feeling of losing control can lead to, or amplify previous Collecting behaviors. By controlling their belongings and the resources around them, collectors feel and create a sense of security and control in their lives and around their space.

Enough Resources/Dealing with Scarcity

Has the individual lived through the Great Depression or experienced times of scarce resources in their life?

This collecting behavior could come from their childhood and remember times when there was not enough food on the table. They might have experienced tough times later in life through bankruptcy or other adversities that created limited resources for them and their families. Being thrifty and working with what little they had, may have created a resource hoarding mentality. It could be that they are collecting resources and preparing to make sure that they do not run out or have enough to make it through.

Physical replacing Mental

Where is the individual in their disease process?

Depending on their lucidity and ability to orient themselves in time and space, it could be that their Collecting comes from the attempt to replace their lack of mental resources with physical resources. Losing memories, cognitive resources, and the ability to orient could contribute to the collection of physical items to replace these mental faculties. It could also be that losing the ability to remember where personal belongings are, creates the sense and need to replace existing items that have merely been misplaced.

Inability to Organize and Process

Does the individual leave piles or clumps of their collections around their space?

It could be that they are having trouble organizing or processing the items that they have collected. If an individual lacks the ability to process and organize the items in their collection, they may be holding onto them for a “rainy day”. This belief that they may eventually be useful is a thought-process held true by many collectors and hoarders. Depending on the disease stage of the individual, it may be possible to help them with processing and understanding the value of each item.

Habitual Behavior, Pre-Memory Loss

Did the individual display Collecting of Hoarding behavior prior to their diagnosis and disease process?

If so, this could be a continuation of their hoarding habits and behavior. Their disease process could also be amplifying their habit, which may make this behavior more difficult to redirect, depending on its severity. Balancing the needs and overall wellbeing of the individual, both emotional and physical, is important when addressing this behavior, especially for those with previous collecting or hoarding tendencies.

Lack of Engagement

Is the individual bored, lacking life enrichment, mental stimulation, or daily routine and activities?

If the answer to any one of these is, “yes”, chances are that a consistent routine, filled with mentally engaging and meaningful activities would help contribute to a reduction in collecting behavior. What activities or routines did the individual enjoy while living independently? Are there activities or tasks that the individual can help with, based on their acuity? How can these tasks bring meaning, value, and purpose to their life? At each Sinceri Senior Living community, we create customized programming for each resident, for their holistic care and wellbeing through our Meaningful Moments programming.

Approach Resolutions with Safety in Mind

Is the collecting or hoarding creating an unsafe environment for the individual or others in their living space? Would resolving the piles of collections help or harm the individual and their quality of life? It takes a delicate approach to work through the issues and mental states associated with Collecting behaviors.


Even with all of these helpful tips, it can be overwhelming for the family caregivers and loved ones who are giving of their time, patience, and compassion each day. If you, or someone you know, need a break or additional resources, please contact your local Sinceri Senior Living community for information on our Respite Stay programs or on how to approach Behaviors as Communication.

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