I spent most of my working life in the business world. I started in the file department of the First National Bank in Dallas and ended as an account rep for a company that designs and manufactures furniture and equipment for the salon and spa industry. I had titles that included, among others, stenographer, secretary, executive secretary, administrative assistant, and office manager. The bottom line was that people paid me a lot of money to keep them organized, to find what they needed when they needed it, and I was very good at what I did. When I got home, however, I wasn’t always so organized. I’ve spent as much time as anyone searching for my lost keys, the misplaced remote control or the bill that’s due tomorrow and was right here a minute ago. But when it comes to warning sign #7, misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, no one could match Mom for originality and creativity. The official definition of this sign is:
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.
The first time I was aware of her penchant for putting things in unusual places, it was a windy day, and I was visiting Mom and Dad at lunch. Before I went back to work, I went into her dressing area to straighten my hair a bit. I looked in the cabinet where she usually kept her hair spray but couldn’t find it.
“Mom, are you out of hair spray.”
“No, I’ll get it for you.”
She went into the bedroom, flipped up the edge of the comforter, reached in between the mattress and box springs and retrieved the missing can.
“Why do you keep it there?”
She looked at me as if I had a screw loose. “To keep it cool.” Of course. Silly me!
That continued to be one of her favorite hiding places for things like her purse, empty prescription bottles and various lingerie items. Other places were the bottom of her underwear drawer and the back of her closet, sometimes on a hanger and sometimes on the floor under a pile of shoes.
She was also creative in the kitchen. Before she got too far gone to carry out the tasks, she helped with kitchen duties, including emptying the dishwasher and putting the dishes away. That always led to a game of “find the dishes” for me, but it made her feel useful. I learned to check food items immediately after she left the kitchen. Most misplacements, like the cereal in with the pots and pans, didn’t cause a problem, but the ice cream in the vegetable drawer could have been really messy.
Shortly after we moved in together, David and I were accused of petty theft more than once. Mom was convinced I had borrowed her sewing scissors and failed to return them, and one day I found Dad rooting through my dressing area looking for Mom’s hair dryer. There was also a dust up of several days about the ownership of a vibrating heating pad, but patience and humor helped, and sanity of a sort was always restored.
While Mom thought we had some of her “stuff,” Dad was convinced that David’s clothes were mysteriously ending up in his closet. Every couple of weeks he came out of his room with a handful of hangers.
“I think these pants are yours, David.”
“I don’t think so, Elmer. I wear a 34/36 and those are 36/32.”
“What about these shirts? I know these aren’t mine.”
“They must be, because they’re not mine. They’re mediums, and I haven’t worn a medium for a decade or two.”
Dad wrinkled his brow, still unconvinced, but he returned the unclaimed clothing to his closet until the next time.
If you have a loved one with creative storage practices, confiscate the important items like identification and insurance cards. Then sit back and enjoy the occasional game of hide and seek.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 or www.alz.org.