The Surprising Connection Between Decluttering and Dementia

decluttering and dementia
Researchers reveal an unexpected connection between decluttering and dementia.

A cluttered environment can be hazardous for older adults, causing an elevated risk for falls. Yet new research is showing a connection between decluttering and dementia and how older adults function cognitively.

What Are Some Benefits of Decluttering for Older Adults?

Clutter is a buildup of items on surfaces, on the floor, or overflowing storage containers, in visible or even unseen areas. It’s very easy for clutter to get out of control and to take over a space if not managed properly. Clutter can be made up of beloved items, unnecessary items, or even trash. Many home experts recommend decluttering for people of all ages for the emotional and physical benefits it can provide. Usually, reducing the amount of clutter in a senior’s home is recommended for a number of reasons, including:

  • Reducing fall risk. Items in passageways can increase the risk that an older adult may fall. Removing items from walkways, doorways, and near seating areas can help to reduce fall risks.
  • Lowering stress. Having less stuff in the home can help create the feeling of a calmer environment that is less stressful.
  • Preventing emergency workers from accessing the home. In the event of an emergency, excess clutter may make it difficult for emergency personnel to get into the home to help a senior in distress.
  • Improving cleanliness. When items collect around the home, it can be difficult to clean around them. Dust also accumulates on clutter which can increase risk of allergy symptoms.

It’s often believed that a neater, clutter-free environment can also benefit individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia by enabling them to function more easily with fewer distractions. Interestingly, however, a new research study from the University of East Anglia showed a compelling connection between decluttering and dementia: for individuals with moderate dementia, decluttering may not be as beneficial as expected.

The study looked at individuals with different stages of dementia to see how they performed certain tasks, such as preparing tea or a simple meal, in their regular cluttered environment or in a completely clutter-free space. Due to cognitive changes caused by the disease, individuals with dementia may lose the ability to carry out tasks that enable them to remain independent at home. For this reason, it’s been believed that reducing excess clutter should make performing daily tasks easier, but new research shows otherwise.

Researchers studied individuals with mild, moderate, and severe dementia and asked them to complete the same tasks at home and in a simulated home environment free of clutter. People with moderate dementia performed the tasks better with the usual amount of clutter in the home as opposed to the clutter-free environment. For individuals with mild or severe dementia, however, the change in environments didn’t have much of an effect; they performed at same level in both settings. The only factor that affected individuals’ ability to carry out the tasks in each situation was their comprehension and cognitive ability to perform the tasks.

While safety is still necessary for older adults living at home, and decluttering to make sure walkways are clear can be an important part of that, this study shows that removing all clutter in the home may not be necessary to improve daily functioning for individuals with dementia. Overall, people with dementia performed better with these tasks at home despite having clutter around them.

With more older adults choosing to age independently in the comfort of home, it’s important to make sure they have a safe and healthy environment that helps them thrive. Nightingale Homecare, a leading provider of dementia care in Phoenix and the surrounding areas, helps families ensure that seniors live an enriching and supported life at home.

Nightingale Homecare’s in-home care professionals are available to help with a variety of tasks, including light housekeeping and helping seniors manage household clutter. Our Connections dementia care program can further help maximize quality of life and cognitive health for individuals with dementia. Contact us today at (602) 926-1157 to learn more about our dementia care in Phoenix and the surrounding areas.