How to Understand and Help Elder Hoarding

Young carer walking with elderly woman in the park

It’s nice when someone has a collection of beloved items, carefully selected over time- Dansk plates, vintage lace, or antique license plates. It’s not so nice when collections become piles and piles turn into hoarding. Research the word “hoarding” and it becomes apparent very quickly that this is not just a matter of junk never discarded; hoarding is a psychological disorder that is unsafe for the sufferer and deeply traumatic for the family members who have to deal with it.

Sometimes dementia and frontal lobe impairment can bring on Diogenes Syndrome. The American Geriatrics Society says that Diogenes syndrome is characterized by extreme self-neglect, domestic squalor, social withdrawal, apathy, compulsive hoarding of rubbish, and lack of shame. The hoarder has lost the sense of pride and no longer holds the self-respect that motivates others to keep a clean house.

There are many tragedies of hoarding but the two that seem to emerge most frequently are as follows:

1. The hoarding began as the result of an emotional trauma or tragedy such as the loss of a child.

2. Family members are caught in a classic Catch-22 scenario. They want to clean up the home yet they cannot because the disease causing the hoarding prevents reasoning with or gaining the cooperation of the hoarder.

Dementia can exacerbate any efforts to clean a hoarder’s home. The junk piled floor to ceiling can be a cocoon of safety for them and trying to remove it can result in aggression or a worsening of the dementia.

Cleaning out a hoarder’s house is a horrible task. The only way to handle it is with a plan:

1. Enlist a cleaning crew.
Siblings, friends, volunteers or hire a crew (which can be very expensive) to clean out the house.

2. Set a specific date and time.
This has to be tackled together as a team. It will never get done one person at a time. You are also going to need a group mentality to stay strong through the process.
One square foot at a time: Ignore the fact that the entire house needs to be done. Break this mammoth task into one square foot, one room at a time. It’s the only way to make it manageable.

Plan assign, don’t second guess.
Create boxes for keepsakes, valuables, donations and trash. (A dumpster is probably a good idea.) Don’t stop to flip through photo albums, there is time for that later. The less sentimental the process, the more productive, and faster, it will be. When you are done call a junk service to come and pick up the odds and ends of junk and then have the dumpster picked up.

And the senior suffering from hoarding? They will need support and treatment. That’s where LivHOME steps in. We will bring at home caregivers, and care management services to the senior, to make sure they receive the treatment they deserve, and the ability to live safely and securely in their home.

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