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When Saving Becomes Hoarding: Signs Someone You Know May Be a Hoarder

User Category: CaregiverOn: April 17, 2012

Signs someone is a hoarder   Our lives are a collection of experiences, people, places, and things. As young children, we collect favorite objects like toy cars or cereal box prizes. All throughout our lives we find pleasure in attaching meaning to objects. But what happens when collecting goes too far? When does accumulating items get out of hand? Hoarding is a serious condition that affects a person’s mental and physical health. According to the Mayo Clinic, “hoarding is the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them” and is often associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Those with hoarding disorder fill their homes with an abundance of useless objects such as newspapers, bags of old clothing, and expired food. The home may be so full of possessions as to block access to the bedroom, kitchen or bathroom, rendering spaces dangerous and unsanitary. The person may be unable to bathe, perform other personal care tasks, or prepare meals. Hoarders tend to experience anxiety, depression, and social isolation. Too embarrassed to have visitors, conflicts with friends and family arise over the condition of the home. Extreme hoarding sometimes leads to eviction and homelessness. Data shows that an estimated 1.4 million people in the U.S. are hoarders. Among those with OCD, nearly 30% exhibit hoarding symptoms. Reality TV has recently cast a spotlight on this psychological disorder, but hoarding is not a new phenomenon. Seniors are at greater risk. Though the first signs of hoarding usually appear during adolescence, hoarding worsens with age. It is most common, and most dangerous, for older adults. In fact, hoarding is known to affect nearly 20% of the 65 and older population. At greatest risk are older, unmarried females who live alone. What causes hoarding disorder? Like other OCD-related conditions, hoarding stems from a desire to control. Hoarders wish to control their environment by controlling how objects are used. They feel every object has important emotional significance and feel an inflated sense of responsibility for the proper use of the surroundings. Hoarding is an effort to manage the anxiety raised by obsessive doubts. Even with today’s modern medical advances, scientists still aren’t sure what causes hoarding, however a number of risk factors exist:

  • Family History – Genetics and upbringing contribute to hoarding disorder. Since we model the behavior of our parents, there is a high association between having a family member who is a hoarder and becoming a hoarder.
  • Stressful life events – Some people develop hoarding behaviors in response to a personal tragedy or major life change – the death of a loved one, divorce, eviction, losing possessions in a fire.  For the newly retired who may be worried about the future, hoarding is a way to stifle insecurities and feelings of loss.
  • Depression-Era Mindset – Those older individuals who grew up during the Depression have an ingrained fear of loss and generational disposition to save. The economic recession of 2009 brought those fears back to life, causing many seniors to lose their homes, jobs, and life savings.
  • History of alcohol abuse – Research demonstrates that nearly 50% of hoarders have history of alcoholic drinking behavior.
  • Social isolation – People who hoard are typically socially withdrawn and isolated. They have weak familial support systems. It’s a double-edge sword: hoarding can lead to social isolation, however feeling lonely can also lead a person to hoard.
  Signs of Hoarding: What to Look for Home of hoarder Simply collecting or owning a lot of objects doesn’t classify a person as a hoarder. While collectors stay organized, acquire, and discard as taste, time, and space allow, hoarding involves the breakdown of this system. Living spaces in the home become so cluttered as to disable normal activity and cause significant stress. Hoarding is not one-dimensional. It affects a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. As a caregiver to a senior, here’s what to look for: In the home:
  1. Clutter blocking windows, doors, rooms and hallways.
  2. Piles of old papers such as newspapers, magazines, or junk mail
  3. Inaccessible washing areas in the kitchen and bathroom
  4. Insect and rodent infestation as a result of clutter
  5. Rotting food and animal or human waste
  6. Damage to walls, ceilings, floors and stairwells
  7. Consistently drawn shades or curtains to hide the inside of a home
  8. Items unopened in their original packaging
  1. Embarrassment about showing the inside of one’s home
  2. Shame or embarrassment
  3. Excessive attachment to possessions, including discomfort letting others touch or borrow possessions
  4. Limited or no social interactions
  5. Reported inability to discard items
  1. Moving items from one pile to another, without discarding anything
  2. Acquiring unneeded or seemingly useless items, including trash or napkins from a restaurant
  3. Difficulty managing daily activities, including procrastination and trouble making decisions
  4. Difficulty in decision making – Inability to organize items; Lack of organization that makes it impossible to reach or locate items the person really needs
  5. Compulsive shopping, sometimes purchasing several of the same item
  6. Difficulty choosing which items to keep and which to discard
  When to get help Hoarding ranges from mild to severe. If you or a loved one shows symptoms of hoarding, talk with a doctor or mental health provider as soon as possible. Many communities have agencies that help with hoarding problems. These “hoarding task forces” are available through the local health department, adult protective agency, or city housing department. Check with your local or county government for resources in your area. Families can find assistance through trained mental health and organization professionals. Therapists can often help begin the process of opening the conversation with a loved one and offer counseling to address underlying causes to develop motivation and self-understanding to remove barriers of their living a satisfying life. Organization coaches specialize in home clutter and will come to the home to help the person develop a strategy for cleaning. Learn More Visit the International OCD Foundation’s Hoarding Center, where those who suffer from this disorder, as well as their families, can learn more about causes and treatment. The Center includes online tests to distinguish clutter from actual hoarding, a support group list, and a searchable directory of mental health specialists experienced in treating this problem. If you’re considering the services of a professional organizer, visit the National Association of Professional Organizers at 9REUJRQU9T6Z