Most people hold on to objects with sentimental value as it reminds them of special times in their lives. However, some people, especially seniors, enjoy accumulating things and have difficulty getting rid of items that they do not need. This is called Hoarding.
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According to the manual published by the American Psychiatric Association and used by mental health professionals, hoarding is described as a disorder that is characterized by persistent difficulty discarding possessions without regard to the objects’ actual value. This difficulty is based on the need to save objects, as well as distinct distress attached to discarding the objects.
This results in cluttered, often unsafe, living conditions that compromise the ability to use the hoarder’s home or other spaces as intended. In addition to inhibiting the hoarder’s ability to maintain a safe, functional environment, hoarding can also cause significant impairment in social or occupational functioning.
Compulsive hoarding is often linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder and can be a symptom of this; however, recent research has shown compulsive hoarding to also be a unique, separate disorder. Because of this, treatments that are often effective in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder have not been proven as successful in treating the separate condition of hoarding.
We have all heard the saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but when almost everyone would perceive the object as trash, and just one person thinks it is a treasure, senior hoarding is likely a factor. The acquisition of, and subsequent inability to part with, objects of little or no value is one of the telltale signs of hoarding in seniors.
Other Senior Hoarding signs include:
- Declining social interactions, particularly in regards to inviting people to their home
- Difficulty getting or staying organized
- Difficulty maintaining hygiene, or managing household tasks and daily activities
- Excessively cluttered living spaces that often can no longer be used as intended
- Significant decline in living conditions
- Collection of, and inability to part with, objects with little or no real value, such as food containers, pill bottles, used napkins or junk mail
There is a variety of factors that could result in hoarding in seniors, including the physical inability to clean and organize their homes, significant anxiety associated with parting with objects, items being perceived as having a higher value than they do, loneliness, depression, the loss of a loved one, growing up with a hoarder as a parent or caregiver, the desire to feel an increased sense of security and emotional fatigue that makes the task of discarding items feel too overwhelming.
When we see hoarding in seniors, it could also be related to emotional attachments to objects, fear of throwing away things that are useful or the simple fact that seniors have had more time to accumulate belongings.
Friends, family members and caregivers may be tempted to simply clean up the mess and empty the senior hoarder’s home of unnecessary objects. However, this can be an emotionally devastating experience for the hoarder. If the underlying issues that led to the hoarding behaviors are not addressed, the senior hoarder will often simply begin to immediately accumulate more clutter. While it may be necessary to take quick action to keep a senior in their home or to significantly improve living conditions, the overall treatment of hoarding in seniors is a longer process that often requires professional help.
Senior hoarding usually involves a multi-pronged approach that could include the assistance of a behavioral therapist, a professional organizer with experience dealing with hoarding in seniors, group therapy sessions, and caring friends and family members. Intense behavioral therapy is generally the most accepted form of treatment; however, antidepressants or other medications may also be used in some cases. It should be noted that behavioral therapy can be expensive, and seniors with dementia are generally not good candidates for this treatment option.
How do you prevent hoarding in Seniors? Here are some helpful tips on how you can help your aging loved one stop or overcome hoarding:
1. Provide Regular Cleaning Service – Provide a weekly cleaning service to help clean and organize the seniors place.
2. Regular Visits – Visiting your aging loved ones on a regular basis will allow you to inspect your loved one’s place for clutter and monitor for any signs of hoarding. Knowing the signs of hoarding is key so you can stop it before it’s too late.
3. Create a Memory Box – It will be helpful to create a memory box where seniors can put few important items with sentimental value. When selecting the items, ask the senior why the item is special. If the senior can’t remember the significance of the item, put the item in a separate box, which can be donated to charity. It may also help if you tell the senior that the items will be donated to the less fortunate.
Conclusion: Senior hoarding is a growing problem among seniors today. Since we are still in the beginning stages of fully learning and understanding this psychological disorder, there is no proven way yet on how to prevent hoarding in seniors. However, just like other mental conditions, knowing the warning signs of senior hoarding can help stop hoarding before it becomes worse.
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About the Author: Catharine D. Allado is a Senior Care Expert and the COO of SeniorCareHomes.com – A trusted and comprehensive online directory of Senior Care Homes such as Assisted Living, Nursing Homes and other types of Senior Housing in California, Florida, New York, Arizona and the rest of the United States. SeniorCareHomes.com also provides FREE Assisted Living options to help seniors and families find the best Senior Housing on the planet!
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