Hoarding Behavior in Seniors

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Today we’re going to explore some of the behaviors that come along with hoarding. We’re also going to share some tips to guide folks that are helping someone actually go through the process of de-cluttering.

Welcome to The Seniors Circle where we hope to inspire and help others by providing valuable, relevant information related to caring for an elderly loved one. Hi, my name is Dawn Neely and I’ll be your host. Thank you for joining us.

A study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that the overall prevalence of hoarding behaviors around 4%, but this number increases to 6.2% for those aged 55 and older. As we age, many people face a dramatic decline in the quality and frequency of their social interactions. Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco conducted a study that found a whopping 13% of older adults experiencing late-life depression also report severe compulsive hoarding.

People with hoarding disorders are also likely to experience other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders, like obsessive compulsive disorder, alcohol dependence, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Seniors are particularly vulnerable. For example, age-related mobility issues compound the dangers of hoarding.

When conducting a home safety assessment for an older adult, one of the first things we’re sure to do is inspect walking paths and hallways throughout the house. We’re trying to ensure that the senior we’re visiting has the ability to safely navigate their home space. We will make suggestions revolving around organization and delicately address the need to remove clutter to prevent falls. We worry not only about the fall risk that hoarding can increase, but also other risks such as fire hazards, poor hygiene and nutrition, and poor sanitary conditions.

Potential Indicators

  • Areas exist in the home that are “off-limits”
  • Bills get lost in the clutter
  • Excessive debt due to compulsive shopping
  • Clutter is such that it takes hours or days to tackle
  • Pathways are narrow

A hoarder’s home can become a hazardous environment pretty quickly. Not only does this jeopardize a senior’s health, safety, and independence, it also prevents them from getting the assistance they may need to age in place. Family caregivers and professional caregivers from in-home care agencies can’t provide adequate support to elders who live in cramped, unsafe, and unsanitary homes. Another concern is that older adults who hoard are often the targets of adult protective service investigations because of the dangers their hoards present to themselves and to others.

Anne-Marie Botek wrote an article for Aging Care that offers support and tips for those that are trying to support someone that is exhibiting hoarding behaviors.

Find Support
The first of five things she suggests is find support, seek out the ear of a friend, family member, or even a therapist that can support you through the situation. There are frustrations that will come along with tackling hoarding, and you’ll benefit from talking with somebody that can help. You know you have the hoarder’s best interest in mind, but you can sometimes become viewed as the enemy. People with hoarding tendencies can become very anxious in regards to their things, and may express their anger and frustration with you. It’ll help to have someone to talk to.

Establish Trust
Also you can establish trust, it’s very important for the person you’re trying to help to understand that you’re truly on their side, it’s difficult for a hoarder to even imagine their things being removed, or even just being moved, and their anger could intensify quickly. It’s in your best interest to communicate with the person that you’re trying to help and be patient. Begin slowly, explain your commitment to respecting their decisions and demonstrate that respect throughout the process. As much as you would like to go in and quickly remove everything without permission, this would quickly backfire. Any action that’s taken underhandedly would likely result in damaging your relationship and any progress that you might have made otherwise.

See Out a Medical Evaluation
Seek out medical evaluation, it’s important to rule out dementia, depression, and other mental health conditions that may be contributing to hoarding behaviors. In the past, there’s been a tendency to classify hoarding as criteria to diagnose an obsessive compulsive disorder, but is more likely now to be considered a potential symptom for a neurological issue that should be addressed.

Be Realistic in Goal Setting
Also, you want to be realistic in your goal setting. In some situations, the hoarder’s collection of things can completely take over a home, and even spill into the outdoor area as well. It can be incredibly overwhelming to even begin the task of taking it on, and it’s important to break the job into smaller manageable tasks in order to continue to make progress and be able to celebrate the smaller successes. A hoarder will feel less pressured and rushed if they’re able to participate in accomplishments and not feel under duress.

Celebrate Success
Lastly, celebrate those successes. Even a small milestone, like recycling stacks of newspaper should be celebrated. Once a smaller task is completed, a hoarder is more likely to become comfortable with taking part in the process. With each accomplishment, a hoarder can become more confident and encouraged in their decision making and organization. It may take a long time, but a hoarder can ultimately regain their home and enjoy a safe, comfortable living environment.

If you have any questions or would like assistance or support in any of these areas, please feel free to reach out to us at Seniors Helping Seniors at 248-969-4000. We would be happy to help in any way we can.

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