Senior Health Concern – Hoarding

Hoarders, clutterers, pack rats, and collectors are a few terms used to describe people with a lot of items in their home, office, car, storage unit, and maybe overflowing into the yard.  The accumulation of objects can become a safety and health problem, often interferes with daily living and/or violation of housing codes that can lead to eviction or homelessness.  It can be difficult to know if a loved one is truly hoarding or merely attached to their personal possessions.

 According to a study published in Journal of Affective Disorders, about 2.5% of the general population falls into the criteria for hoarding disorder.[1]  Hoarding behaviors often emerge during adolescence or early adulthood, and tend to worsen with age. Hoarding behavior may focus on items such as books, papers, clothing, and even pets.

The reasons why someone begins hoarding are not fully understood according to the National Health Service.  Mental health problems such as depression, psychotic disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have been associated with hoarding. Other possible reasons for hoarding may be associated with self-neglect such as living alone, family history of hoarding, and growing up in a cluttered home environment.

Hoarding can create significant health and safety risks for older adults. Clutter can cause falls or fire hazards. The inability to access the kitchen can lead to problems with nutrition and food contamination. Medication is easily lost. In addition, there are infestations of insects and rodents.

Hoarders are emotionally attached to their belongings and lack the ability to set priorities and make informed decisions. People who hoard can comprise their own safety and relationships just because they are afraid to throw anything away. If a family member or loved one is experiencing hoarding tendencies, contact a general practitioner or mental health professional. In many communities, public health agencies can help address problems of hoarding and get help for individuals affected.

[1]  Postlethwaite A, Kellet S, Mataix-Cols D. Prevalence of Hoarding Disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2019 Jun.

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