Strange as it sounds, sometimes people with dementia forget the purpose of a trash can. This can result in three different, vexing behavioral symptoms. Here’s how to cope.

  • Rummaging. Your loved one may rummage through the trash routinely, especially if prone to rummaging behavior generally (going through a desk, a drawer, or papers, for example). The reason seems to be that some people simply find it satisfying to dig through things—it’s a tactile, repetitive activity. Relocate an open trash bin to behind a cupboard door—possibly closed with a child safety latch. Secure outdoor trash containers with bungee cords. You might also substitute a “junk drawer” of things like tool parts or sewing notions for safer rummaging.
  • Storing or hiding. Your loved one may decide the trash is a good place to store (or hide) important things—the trouble is that nobody else knows, and/or your loved one forgets, and the items are lost forever. If your loved one likes to hide or “file” objects like mail, keys, TV remotes, glasses, and so on, develop the habit of making a quick garbage check before you set out trash for pickup.
  • Wastebasket as urinal. Men with dementia sometimes use the trash container in place of a commode, especially if they have a problem such as urge incontinence that makes them need to urinate quickly. The wastebasket may be what they see first, and therefore use first.