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  • Writer's pictureLisa Harris

Decluttering for Dementia: 7 Organization Tips for Caregivers

There’s no doubt about it. Caring for someone with dementia can be a physically and emotionally demanding and draining experience. Not only are you trying to help your loved one manage their symptoms, but you’re also most likely trying to manage your own grief and stress as a result of seeing your loved one’s symptoms progress.

If you’re moving your loved one into assisted living or trying to make their current housing more accommodating to their needs, adding “get organized” on top of all the existing demands can add a whole new layer of stress, but it’s a necessary task. Even for people without dementia, clutter can contribute to stress, poor sleeping and eating habits, mood swings, and poor health overall. Clutter can be especially overstimulating and anxiety inducing in people with dementia, so it’s important to keep their spaces as orderly as possible.

Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels

It’s an important task, but it can also be a daunting one. Even as a professional organizer, I can understand how difficult it is. I recently moved a close family member with dementia into assisted living, and I can personally attest to how challenging it is, both physically and emotionally.

I recently gave a talk to a group of caregivers and shared my tips for organizing for someone with dementia, and today I am sharing these tips with you. Keep reading for 7 tips on how to organize for someone with dementia.

1. Label

This tip is pretty straightforward but very important. As you know, people with dementia can get confused and forgetful and may struggle to remember things like where their clothes are kept or where they keep their favorite mug. Labelling drawers and cabinets can not only help them remember but can also help ease some of their anxiety when it comes to searching for things. I recommend not only labelling with words, but with pictures as well.

2. Location, Location, Location

Where you store things is just as important as how you store. Commonly used things should always be kept in the same spot and clearly in sight.

3. Create a Photo Phone Book

If you have a loved one with dementia, you may have experienced how upsetting it can be when they cannot remember someone. We can only imagine how upsetting and confusing it is for them, but we can try to make it easier by providing all the information for their contacts in one place.

I recommend creating a phone book for you loved one. Use a simple binder and fill it with pages that shows the contact’s picture and lists the name, phone number and relationship of that contact to your loved one. Keep the background of the photo simple, just showing the contact’s head and shoulders and nothing distracting in the background.

4. Team Up

Whenever possible, it’s important to get your loved one involved in the decision-making and sorting process. Losing one’s memory can obviously make someone feel lost or not like themselves, so it’s important to empower them and give them agency whenever and wherever we can.

This may be easier for those with loved ones in earlier stages, but in any stage, I recommend starting small. You can use a hula hoop or form a string into a circle to map out a specific, small area for them to focus on. This can help them not feel so overwhelmed, yet still feel involved, especially when you’re in the process of getting rid of things and need to make those decisions.

5. Create an Info Hub

Much like the photo phone book helps keep all their contacts in one place, creating a dedicated info hub is a great way to keep all important, key information easily available to your loved one while easing some confusion and anxiety.

When it comes to keeping track of the day, I recommend using a whiteboard instead of using a calendar, as a calendar may look overwhelming to them. You can use the whiteboard to list the date, items on their to-do list (like doctor visits), or any relevant information they need to know on that day. You can also use the information hub as a place to keep their phone or iPad, keepsake photos, a pen and paper, a clock – everything they may want or need to access on a daily basis.

6. Trace Their Steps

When organizing for those with dementia, safety always comes first! Make sure to be aware of where your loved one is walking and to remove or hide cables, chords or electrical wires that are on the floor. Keep in mind that some area rugs can also create potential tripping hazards, so make sure to either remove or tape them down. The same goes for any potential clutter on the floor; make sure there is nothing in their path that may trip them or get in their way. I also advise caregivers to keep any chemical cleaners locked in a cabinet, just to be safe! In general, it’s important to keep the environment as clean, clutter-free, and unconfusing as possible.

7. Photographs

While you want to avoid cluttering and overwhelming your loved one, I do recommend using plenty of photographs in their space, either on the walls or on top of furniture. Photographs are a great way to personalize the space and help your loved one recall people and memories and provide happy times that they can talk about with you.

There are certain digital frames you can get that you can actually email photos to, which can be a great way for your family to stay connected, send photo updates and let your loved one know they are thinking of them. This is especially great now, when visiting hours to assisted living facilities might be more redistricted due to Covid.

Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels - Photographs can be a great way to personalize one's space and help your loved one recall happy memories.

Now that you’ve read these tips, I hope you feel empowered and ready to help your loved one get organized. Like I said - I understand just how difficult it is to have a loved one with dementia, so I just wanted to share that my heart goes out to all of you who are in the same boat. These are difficult emotional seas to navigate, but I hope these tips help smoothen the sail, just a bit.

Lisa Harris

Organize With Lisa

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