The Garbage Can Obsession / Repetitive Phase

September 18, 2017

I have heard stories from different people about their loved ones with Frontotemporal Dementia who have some kind of an obsession or repetitive behavior. Something they do over and over again, even if the behavior does not make any sense. I have, also, experienced first hand watching my mom have her own repetitive behaviors and obsessions.

Below are the definitions for obsession and repetitive. I would classify my mom's behavior that I am going to tell you about as an obsession and repetitive.

Obsession Definition -

- the state of being obsessed with someone or something.

- an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person's mind.

Repetitive Definition -

- containing or characterized by repetition, especially when unnecessary or tiresome.

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My mom had a BIG garbage can obsession. This phase in her life seemed to last for a few years. This is probably one of the biggest obsessions she had every week.

My mom's routine was like this:

1. Every garbage day she would wake up and make sure to take the garbage cans out to the road. If any of her neighbors put out their garbage cans the night before garbage day, she could not understand why anyone would do this.

2. As soon as the garbage man picked up the garbage, my mom would make sure that she brought in the garbage can right away. If people didn't take their garbage cans in right away, she thought they were crazy and she couldn't understand why people didn't take their garbage cans in right away, like she would do.

3. My mom started washing her garbage can out with her hose and water. She thought the garbage can smelled really bad and she thought washing it with water would help. She would take her garbage can onto the grass and use the hose to rinse out her garbage can, every time she brought in her garbage can. My mom added in this stage of the garbage can phase a few years after her original garbage can obsession started.

4. There were times that my mom would leave messages on the garbage can for the garbage man. The messages didn't make much sense, but my mom would feel good about her messages. My mom would write on a paper towel with a black marker and tape the paper towel to the garbage can. Below is one of the messages she left for the garbage man. My mom thought the garbage can was so full that the garbage man needed to dump the garbage can 3 different times to get all of her garbage out of her garbage can.

5. If my mom was out and about with me, my mom would want me to take her to her home, just so she could put her garbage can away.

6. My mom would laugh at the garbage cans that would fall over whether it was from the garbage man after he dumped the garbage can or the wind. There was a time that we were at a park and multiple garbage cans had tipped over. I believe they tipped over because it was very windy that day. My mom wanted to pick up all the garbage cans. I, literally, drove her to each garbage can (there were a bunch) so she could pick the garbage cans up, that had fallen over.

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During this time in my mom's life. . . . .I never put her down or asked her why she would do these things. I just went a long with her. I entered into her world and stayed there with her during this time. There was nothing I could say or do that would change her behavior. She couldn't understand my explaining, even if I tried. This behavior kept her mind busy and gave her something to do. Something that she enjoyed doing, and it didn't hurt anything or anyone with her doing this.

The repetitive behavior made me think to myself.....




and the answer was because this was our NEW normal with Frontotemporal Dementia. This is normal for someone with Frontotemporal Dementia.

This is the advice that I would give myself, if I could give myself advice, back during the garbage can obsession/repetitive phase. . . .

The repetitive behavior and obsessions will test your patience. This is definitely a test in patience. FTD will give you the ultimate repetitive behavior and obsessions test. Learn to be patient and to let things go. Remember you are not alone! This won't last forever! Stay strong! You can do this!  :)

My mom did other repetitive behaviors then just the garbage can, also. Another popular thing my mom was obsessed with was turning on and off her outside lights. I'll have to write a story about that repetitive behavior sometime.

This is our garbage can story!

What repetitive behavior or obsessions have you seen your loved one have?

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