Hoarding in Elders - A Growing Problem

How to Work with a Loved One to Unclutter

hoarding in seniors
Hoarding tendencies grow as you age. Work with a loved one to un-clutter their mind and household. Getty Images

A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins revealed that about 4 percent of the population shows hoarding behavior, but that percentage goes up to 6.2 in people over 55. There is some research that exists suggesting that people who go on to develop Alzheimer's may have hoarding tendencies prior to being diagnosed. Hoarding in elders in a growing problem. But you can work with a loved one to un-clutter both their mind and their household.

Underlying Causes of Hoarding

  • Hoarding could have started at a younger age and grown worse over time so an addiction that developed earlier is just continuing.
  • More often, the situation of a senior changes. Research suggests pre-Alzheimer's personality may trigger hoarding behavior and we have a tendency to accumulate more stuff as we age and to keep it.
  • A health issue may prevent someone from being able to deal with the clutter.
  • When a senior is lonely or depressed, things take the place of people.
  • Sometimes a person does not know how to get rid of possessions. They are overwhelmed and embarrassed.
  • There could be a sentimental attachment to things, a sense of loyalty to keep gifts from family and friends for example.

Signs that Someone is Hoarding

Look for these signs.

  • Piles of mail and unpaid bills
  • Difficulty walking safely through a home
  • Expired food in the refrigerator
  • Jammed closets and drawers
  • Compulsive shopping
  • Difficulty deciding whether to discard items
  • Picking up free, unneeded or worthless items
  • Using the bathtub or the bed for storage

Dangers of Hoarding

How You Can Help Someone Unclutter

  • Have to ease into the conversation. Some hoarders are proud of their collection and may want no parts of de-cluttering. Clutter is all about control. Remind your loved ones if they don't decide where something will go, someone else will. Use logic to help seniors understand it's O.K. to let go.
  • Start with the health and safety issues. Remind your loved ones that too much clutter can actually keep them from being safe in their homes, which could jeopardize their ability to stay at home.
  • Be non-judgmental. If the hoarder feels judged or disapproved of, the ability to achieve change is reduced.
  • Find low hanging fruit. Start with areas of the home that is less complex so the person can experience accomplishment. Remove items agreed upon immediately so there is no“removal remorse.”
  • Cheer small victories.
  • Look at the charitable issue. Most hoarders believe that virtually every item has a use, and that “somewhere out there” is a person who needs or can use the particular item. Maintaining a list of charitable agencies. Ask seniors to fill a box with clothing they don't wear much and make a list of the items in the box. Agree that if they have not gone back to the box in six months to wear the item, they will donate that to charity.
  • Similarly one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Find out how much the heirlooms are worth. Consult a local antique dealer. For the money motivated, resale can be a great inducer to declutter the home.
  • If someone has sentimental attachment say to a prom dress. Save only a piece of the dress to make a quilt or display in a shadow box. Scrapbooking and converting photos to DVDs.
  • Practical - Establish online bill paying. Get them off junk mail lists, which can put them at risk for identity theft. Buy a shredder.
  • Consider the services of a professional organizer. Enlist a cleaning crew.

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