30 Sep Senior Hoarding: What is it and How Can You Help?
Hoarding is a hot topic of conversation in many families, especially when adult children are worried about hoarding tendencies displayed by aging parents and grandparents. Senior hoarding is a worthy topic to explore and correct. Above and beyond the mental/emotional connection between hoarders and their possessions, hoarding is a significant safety issue.
Senior Hoarding: What is it and How Can You Help?
Hoarding affects between 2 percent and 5 percent of the population, which means as many as 345,000 people in Washington struggle with hoarding. Some states, including ours, designate Hoarding Disorder Week in October to bring further attention to this issue and offer resources that support hoarders and their families.
In the wake of our state’s newest pandemic recommendations to keep gatherings small and practice social distancing, these next few weeks are a perfect time to learn more about hoarding. After reading more about it, consider holding conversations about hoarding with senior loved ones. Then, work together to create a plan that honors their sentimental attachments to “things” while ensuring living environments are safe and accessible.
Hoarding Is a Social/Emotional Red Flag
Hoarding is a disorder marked by significant difficulty in letting go of possessions. Those who hoard also have a hard time organizing their belongings or their reluctance to “let go,” which means their living spaces become dangerously cluttered and packed full of “stuff.”
It’s important to note that the APA differentiates between hoarding and collecting. They write:
“Hoarding is not the same as collecting. Collectors typically acquire possessions in an organized, intentional, and targeted fashion. Once acquired, the items are removed from normal usage but are subject to being organizing, admired, and displayed to others. Acquisition of objects in people who hoard is largely impulsive, with little active planning, and triggered by the sight of an object that could be owned. Objects acquired by people with hoarding lack a consistent theme, whereas those of collectors are narrowly focused on a particular topic. In contrast to the organization and display of possessions seen in collecting, disorganized clutter is a hallmark of hoarding disorder.”
Originally, hoarding was initially classified as a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but that is no longer the case. Now, psychologists have identified certain “risk factors” for becoming a hoarder, and hoarding is viewed as a red flag indicating the need for gentle and compassionate support.
Risk Factors for Senior Hoarding
Certain situations make a person more prone to hoarding, many of which align with our senior population. Risk factors for hoarding include:
- Being 60+ years of age
- Experiencing a recent loss or trauma
- The death of a spouse or close family member
- Social isolation
Addressing the underlying emotional reasons for hoarding is a compassionate first step towards helping your senior family member begin to let go. Honoring the heart of the matter paves the way for the necessary decluttering process.
Safety Issues Associated with Senior Hoarding
There are also serious health and safety issues associated with hoarding. So, safety is another important thing to address with seniors who have difficulty reducing clutter. Hoarding elevates the chances of:
- Fire risk. Fires are far more likely to start and spread in proportion to available flammable material. According to the Washington State Patrol, “Hoarding increases the risk of fire ignition…Occupants in these homes are at risk during a fire because blocked exits may prevent escape, or materials could fall on them. In addition, hoarding puts first responders at risk due to obstructed exits, falling objects, and excessive fire loading, and it impedes their ability to search out and rescue people and pets.”
- Fall risk. One of the first things we do as a senior home care agency is work with clients to declutter their homes and make them more accessible to prevent the risk of fall accidents.
- Heightened anxiety.While seniors may feel anxious or afraid at the prospect of getting rid of their possessions and hoarded materials, they are unaware of the excess anxiety and stress caused by hoarding. An article in Psychology Today states, “Messy homes and workspaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed.” Clutter affects how we feel about our homes and ourselves.
- Health/Hygiene issues. In severe hoarding cases, the piled-up clutter leads to rot, mildew, pest issues, and other risks to the senior’s health and hygiene.
Work With Professionals to Support Senior Hoarders
In most cases, we advise working with mental health and hoarding professionals to support senior hoarders. However, if your loved one is open to methodically working with you to declutter their home, we recommend reading Helpguide.org’s Helping Someone With Hoarding Disorder. The article provides detailed instructions around conversational tips, what to say/not say, and how to methodically sort through their things.
In most cases, we recommend working with professionals, such as The Northwest Hoarding Coalition. They offer exceptional, free, and sliding-scale resources for seniors, caregivers, and families.
Would you like support in maintaining a safe, clean, and accessible home for your senior loved one? Contact With a Little Help In-Home Care, a licensed, senior home care agency. Our team of compassionate caregivers supports senior health and wellbeing, and our services are always tailored to our clients’ needs.