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Hoarding and Seniors: Is it Just Clutter?

The TV show, "Hoarders" is a fascinating glimpse into a world most of us can not fathom. Cameras take us into the homes of hoarders; cluttered with debris, trash and seemingly useless items. We watch as mental health workers and organizational specialists work to clear the mess and help the individual to let go of their "stuff". Often, the individual with hoarding issues is an older person.

What causes this behavior and how can a loved one intervene?

In one research study published, a link was acknowledged between elders and hoarding, noting that 40% of hoarding complaints to local health departments involved senior residences. Hoarding is more than just an organizational problem or an eye sore. It can inhibit the senior's ability to take care of basic hygiene needs, prepare/store food and pose a general health and safety hazard. A recent U.S. study, for instance, found that 45% of older hoarders could not use their refrigerators, 42% could not use their kitchen sink or bathtub and 10% could not even use their toilet. Not surprisingly, many seniors with hoarding behaviors become socially isolated. Embarrassed and ashamed of their surroundings, they often stop inviting house guests. These issues can pose grave health consequences for anyone, and especially a senior citizen.

What are the primary causes of senior hoarding behaviors?

  • Memory Problems--With memory of past experiences becoming hazy, a hoarder may gather and keep objects as reminders or as a substitute for memory.

  • Emotional Attachment to Possessions--Hoarders can develop extreme attachment to their belongings and view them as an extension of self. Objects can come to represent security and safety. Throwing items away can be a terrifying prospect. Additionally, the hoarder finds purpose in controlling and "managing" their possessions and tremendous guilt in discarding anything.

  • Compensation for Loss-- All seniors are faced with losses as they age; loss of family & friends, physical or cognitive impairments that reduce independence, and sale of home. Acquiring and keeping objects can serve as an expression of grief or a coping mechanism.

  • Isolation--Elderly hoarders tend to live alone and without an adequate support system. Hoarding can become a way for an isolated senior to comfort himself with objects when family or friends are absent from his everyday life.

  • Trauma--The current generation of seniors lived through a number of traumatic world events including the Great Depression, World War II, and the Holocaust. These events undoubtedly instilled the value of living frugally, saving, and intolerance of wasteful behaviors. These values and actions were prudent when facing the intense events of their generation. However, the same behaviors can become obsessive and unhealthy with age and possibly lead to hoarding behaviors.

Is Your Loved One at Risk?

What behaviors or characteristics might indicate that your senior loved one might be at risk for developing a hoarding problem? Watch for the following:

  • Mail and bills are piling up at home.

  • Difficulty walking safely through the home due to clutter.

  • Frustration trying to stay or organized or make decisions.

  • Difficulty handling their daily activities.

  • Expired food in the refrigerator and pantry.

  • Closets and drawers that are jammed packed and disorganized.

  • Compulsive shopping.

  • Difficulty deciding whether to discard items.

  • Significant health episode like stroke, dementia.

  • Loneliness and lack of support network.

If the challenges of family and career are making life overwhelming and difficult to care for a loved one in need of assistance, we can help. Today’s families have very busy lifestyles so many times family members want to help and in many cases try to help but generally it is only a matter of time before it all becomes overwhelming trying to juggle too many tasks at one time. For most just knowing that companies like ours are here when you need support and an extra set of caring hands make the process less stressful and smooth.

Should a loved one need help, call us today 770-442-8664!

Easy Living Services, Inc.

Providing Home Care to Atlanta families since 1994

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