Hoarding isn’t new. In fact, the original fairy tales of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and any tale including a leprechaun or miser, all feature a hoarder. But the illness that creates hoarding is no fiction. In fact, if affects over 6% of people aged 55 and older.
What is hoarding?
The term has been popularized by A&E’s television show Hoarders. But the definition of the term is, To amass objects and hide or store away.
The objects that are hoarded can vary. During the early Covid-19 pandemic, people hoarded toilet paper, it was a frenzy that took over many individuals. Some people hoard money, some only very specific items, like “collectibles”, but others hoard in a general sense.
In 2010, hoarding was declared a mental disorder in the DSM-5. The Mayo Clinic has officially defined the disorder as, “Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.”
What is the difference between hoarding and “collecting”?
Collecting items is a pastime that many of us enjoy, but when is collecting a possible warning sign of disordered behavior?
Collecting vs. Hoarders
- Display their items with pride, usually in an organized fashion
- Items have some sort of theme or “type”
- Usually enjoy conversations about their collections
- Money is budgeted around collections
- Collectors will often recognize if their collection is large or ‘out of control’
- There is embarrassment about the items
- Don’t want others to see their environments
- Are unable to “stop” or control their desire to collect items
- Have an inability to discard items in general; even trash items will be held with emotional value
- Items are not organized or “shown off”
- No recognition or acceptance that there is a problem
Health issues associated with hoarding
The condition can worsen with age, which is why we often see it manifest more in older adults. According to UniCityHealthcare:
Hoarding can put the health of the elderly, as well as their families and caregivers, at risk. Excessive hoarding runs the risk of seniors becoming physically injured, as well having serious health consequences. Some risks can be:
- Serious injuries from falling due to the inability to maneuver around the items
- The risk of fire as a result of the numerous items in the home, which can also make it difficult to remove the elderly from the fire as a result
- Mold or bacteria growth that can cause serious health issues that can result in serious illness or even death
- Lack of sanitation can put an elderly person at risk for serious health complications
- High ammonia levels can lead to serious health complications
The most successful treatment of Hoarding Disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy and can be quite effective. Therapy should be utilized in conjunction with cleaning and sanitizing the home. Simply cleaning the home without treating the underlying condition and behaviors will be ineffective in the long run.
Because hoarding is a mental disorder, if you suspect you or a loved one is affected, speak with the family physician or mental health professional about resources.
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