Piles of clothing multiple feet high, that hasn’t been worn for years. Boxes upon boxes of magazine clippings that crumble into dust when you touch them. Spoiled food from months – even years – back, still occupying refrigerator and cabinet shelves. Unclean and unhealthy pets that incessantly breed and leave debris and feces in their path. Pest infestation. Narrow walking pathways bordered by bags of items ranging from costume jewelry to holiday decorations. A sofa that cannot be sat upon, or a bed that can’t be slept on due to that fact that they have been invaded by stacks of more… stuff.
Hoarding disorder is defined as “the obsessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them.” If you are at all familiar with it, the above images may be all too real for you. In more serious cases, hazmat outfits must be worn to clean out the living spaces of deceased hoarders who did not seek or accept assistance to tame their situations and improve their quality of life. Also called Diogenes syndrome or senile squalor syndrome, hoarding disorder affects over six percent of the over-55 population. And when left untreated, it can become life-threatening.
While it is believed that hoarding behavior in general is connected to anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), in seniors, the onset of cognitive impairment such as dementia can sometimes trigger such already-existing conditions to develop into full-blown hoarding.
What can you do to help if your senior loved one happens to be a hoarder? An article in the Journal of Geriatric Care Management suggests a few things:
1) Do not judge. Listen closely to what they’re telling you. It could give you some valuable information on how to make the clean-up process more palatable and less of a strain on both of you. Perhaps the original intent of purchasing what has become excessive amounts of unused cookware, was to entertain? Perhaps negotiate to donate it to families who would like to entertain more often.
2) Let them know that you understand how hard it is to perform the healing task. Praise them frequently for even the smallest steps toward a better quality of life. For example, when your mom opts to donate some things to Goodwill, compliment her decision and make sure she knows that it was an important one to make.
3) Remove agreed-upon items as quickly as possible, starting with your “low-hanging fruit.” There are many organizations that will come pick up donations for no cost. Look them up and enlist their help.
4) Use protection when cleaning. It is easier than you think to become extremely sick when cleaning out a space that has been neglected for years – even if that space belongs to your parents. Use proper equipment, and when necessary, call in professionals to help perform the job.
One other potential solution to consider is prevention. Visit – or ask others to visit, if you are unable – your elderly loved one frequently, and report their experience back to you. If they are having trouble being invited inside the home, or if they walk in and feel that hoarding behavior may have commenced, it is better for you to know this as soon as possible so that you can work together to make sure it does not become a major issue for your parent in the future.
There is so much to think about when entering the later stages of life. If you are considering elder care options, we at 805Aging can help. Our professional staff specializes in assisting you to choose the right kind of care for your loved one.
We conduct regular check-ins when you are unable to do so. 805Aging also provides oversight and detailed feedback to the family to keep your loved one safe and well-cared for day or night, weekday or weekend, holiday and every day.
We have the resources. We can hold your hand. We can guide you. Your peace of mind is our main goal, and is well assured. To find out more, call us at 805-750-4755 or visit our website and sign up for our monthly newsletter: www.805Aging.com.
There is no manual on how to take care of your parents as they age. They had a baby book when you were young. You have us. -Amy