Hoarding in seniors is dangerous
When older adults hang on to a lot more stuff than they need and insist on living in extremely cluttered spaces, they may be hoarders. If your senior is showing this behavior, you’re probably worried – for good reason!
Hoarding causes physical dangers like increased fall risk, blocking emergency workers from reaching your senior, and unsanitary living conditions. It could also be a sign of a serious condition like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
What is hoarding?
Hoarding is when someone compulsively buys and saves objects even though they have so many belongings that they’re creating health and safety issues in their home.
Seniors who are hoarders resist your attempts to get rid of anything and often say their possessions are:
- Useful or needed for future use
- Unique, irreplaceable, or have great sentimental value
- Incredible “deals” they couldn’t pass up (even if it’s something they didn’t need or want)
Hoarding health risks and dangers
Hoarding results in serious side effects for older adults, including:
- Preventing emergency care – firefighters or emergency medical technicians (EMTs) may not be able to get through the house to reach them
- Causing physical danger – increased risk of falls or not being able to move around due to the extreme clutter
- Refusing home help – won’t allow anyone into their home (usually due to embarrassment or fear of their stuff being disturbed), this negatively affects their nutrition, hygiene, and medication
- Producing unsanitary conditions – spoiled food leads to pests and foodborne illness
- Creating fire hazards – piles of old papers, newspapers, or magazines can easily go up in flames
What causes the hoarding behavior?
Right now, the cause of hoarding isn’t clear. Doctors and psychologists think that hoarding could be a sign that someone has dementia, other cognitive disorders, or a mental illness like OCD, depression, or anxiety. Other triggers include living alone for long periods of time without social interaction, lack of cognitive stimulation, or a traumatic event.
Another possibility is something called Diogenes syndrome, which can be brought on by dementia or frontal lobe impairment. Someone with this syndrome shows extreme self-neglect, domestic squalor, social withdrawal, apathy, compulsive hoarding of trash, and lack of shame.
3 tips to help seniors who are hoarders
1. Visit the doctor
Because hoarding is connected to health conditions or mental health issues, it’s likely that your older adult will need professional help. Having their doctor do a full evaluation will help figure out if the behavior is caused by dementia or other medical conditions.
2. Consider therapy
If the issue isn’t related to a medical condition, therapy (sometimes in combination with medication) is a way to help seniors manage their hoarding behavior.
3. Encourage them to declutter with kindness and compassion
- Be patient and compassionate and go slowly
- Break down the task into clearing small areas or rooms over time rather than trying to tackle everything at once
- Treat even small steps as a victory – throwing away one or two items could be a major event for your senior
- Start by getting rid of a small portion of a larger collection to show your senior that they’re capable of letting go of things