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Eldersand hoarding

by Isabel Fawcett

In gerontology, psychiatry and other medical specialties hoarding is a complex subject. Hoarding can stem from obsessive-compulsive psychological disorder, dementia, and a human need to retain control over one's life, among other reasons. Eldercare poses unique hoarding challenges and decisions for many caregivers.

Absent extreme obsessive-compulsive clues the psychiatry and physiology of hoarding behaviors is a moving target. Extreme hoarding might be manifested as a room full of books stacked floor-to-ceiling posing a safety threat. Hoarding also may become evident through stenches inside the hoarder's home.

Among elders with no history or clues of psychological impairment hoarding may not be pathology-based. Hoarding may help alleviate elder anxiety. Hoarding enables elders a measure of control over rapidly changing and increasingly confusing environments.

Elder Control and Command

While I was employed, my mother was adamant about being the recipient of my hand-me-down accessories. After I became her full-time caregiver, I gave her my red handbag she had long admired. Seeing her with her handbag reminds me of Estelle Getty's "Sophia" character on the Golden Girls sitcom. Sophia, the elder, walked in-home with her handbag on her folded arm. As a caregiver I understood Sophia's elder eccentricities.

Unlike Sophia, my mother does not carry her purse on her arm all day. She takes her pocketbook downstairs each morning once she is ready for breakfast. Her pocketbook is always in the same space. Years ago, her handbag was her personal and family business hub. Now 84, her handbag remains a hub and lifeline.

Handbag Diving

I never had any desire to look into another person's handbag--not even my mother's. Privacy of handbags is a matter of principle to me. The social convention worked fine for me until I became a full-time caregiver.

After serving breakfast, I go to her bedroom to perform light housekeeping. As I cleaned, I noticed she forgot her handbag. I picked up her pocketbook to take it to her and wondered why it was so heavy. The sheer weight led me to look inside. Looking inside her handbag was a first for me.

I felt like an unrepentant caregiver handbag diver.

Elder Stash

I should not have been surprised when I opened the handbag. I saw an abundance of paper napkins--folded, crumpled, unfolded, and unused. Replacing paper napkins is one of my many hidden caregiving costs. Mom takes lots of napkins to bed nightly. One napkin covers the glass of water she keeps bedside. She then walks to my bedroom to offer me three or four napkins.

She recommends I place a napkin under my water glass and one on top of the glass. Straws pose no problem. Mom pokes a tiny hole in the napkin cover to accommodate straws seamlessly while on nightly napkin distribution foot patrol.

Mom's handbag also had a ring I bought for her last Mother's Day and a bracelet I got her sometime ago. Glad I found her missing chain also. Mom's long since missing-in-action eyeglasses were buried under wads of crumpled clean napkins. Her eyeglass case was nowhere in sight.

When I saw her eyeglasses I smiled. For weeks, she had sworn up-and-down that a lady had taken her eyeglasses. She was not pleased at the (mystery) lady. Elders lose something? There's always a mystery lady or man on hand in the vast universe who steals from elders without impunity. Thieves are less embarrassing to elders than forgetting or misplacing their belongings.

I cleaned her eyeglasses, tossed sufficient napkins to cover a landfill and one weeks-old unopened yogurt (no-stench, thankfully.) I retrieved a missing teaspoon for the kitchen drawer. Paper napkins and spoons grow on caregiver trees.

I smiled as I handed Mom her cleaned, wobbly eyeglasses. We exchanged a lighthearted moment about "the lady" and Mom's weighty activity hub. Mom smiled. Still smiling, I told Mom that if she took her eyeglasses off for the remainder of the day, there would be "hell to pay." We both laughed at the remembrance of Mom's former expression when she was the parent-in-charge, and I, her wayward child.

Note to self: All is well that ends well when it ends in Mom's red handbag.