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    Dementia Symptoms & Caregiver Strategies: Shopping and Cognitive Impairment

    Individuals with cognitive impairment may have difficulty controlling their shopping habits. For instance, they may want to buy things they do not need, spend more money than necessary, or shoplift. The following are some strategies to control impulsive shopping:

    • Limit the amount of money that is easily accessible.
    • Take some business cards explaining the person's problems along with you when you are out in public to discretely hand out to staff in stores, restaurants and banks. These cards can be made on a home computer and can say something like: "My (wife/father) has cognitive difficulties; thank you for your patience."
    • If shoplifting is a problem, it may be helpful to let the store management know in advance so that incidents can be handled discretely.
    • Avoid letting the person shop alone.
    • Offer to do the shopping for them "this week" to give them a rest.
    Repetitive buying is also a common trait in people who are experiencing cognitive challenges. It seems to be especially frequent when grocery shopping, but it can also happen when shopping at hardware stores, drugstores, or other shops.

    Why it happens:

    The force of habit is strong, and memory is weaker, so the person you care for may go to the store with the same shopping list in his or her head, outing after outing, forgetting what was bought last time or what's in the cupboard at home.

    What you can do:
    • At home, weed through food items regularly to throw away what's outdated.
    • Give away multiples to reduce clutter.
    • Make a list of pictures or packages instead of words to simplify picking out things when in the store. This may reduce the stress of not being able to associate the item with a certain word.
    • In the store, let the person make his or her own selections, but discreetly remove from the basket (or at checkout) the things you know aren't needed. Or suggest that there's enough on hand at home, but you'll write the item on the list for "next time."
    • Look into grocery-delivery services; many stores allow you to shop online and then pick up your order or have it delivered to your home.

    Cognitive Impairment can have many causes. The patient’s doctor should be consulted to determine a specific diagnosis and treatment options. But whatever the cause, the symptoms are often alike, and the Caregiver Strategies are often similar.

    The information in the resources listed above was compiled by the Ray Dolby Brain Health Center through clinical experience and commonly available published materials. For information on additional Caregiver Strategies, go to: