Hoarding disorder affects many
By Denise Dias
Hoarding disorder affects about 19 million people in the nation. A person with hoarding disorder experiences behavioral distress which interferes with their emotional, physical, social, financial or legal well-being.
Hoarding creates cramped living conditions and homes full of stuff. Many homes only have narrow pathways that wind through the stacks of clutter. Every surface in the home is covered and piled high with items. The clutter may spread beyond the house to the garage, a vehicle or other storage facilities.
People who hoard do not see it as a problem which makes treating the person challenging. Hoarders also do not see themselves as mentally ill and do not understand how their behaviors contribute to an unhealthy home environment.
Hoarding creates unsanitary living conditions which pose health risks. Hoarding can also interfere with performing daily tasks such as bathing and cooking. Above all, the squalor is a safety and fire hazard.
- Risk factors: Hoarding can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex or economic status.
- Age: Hoarding often starts in adolescence and becomes progressively worse with age. The longer the behavior continues, the more difficult it becomes to treat these individuals. Hoarding is a personal and private behavior, thus making it difficult for others to know the extent to how serious the situation is.
- Family: People are more likely to hoard if they have a family member who does.
- Social isolation: Often people who hoard are withdrawn from society because they are isolated or lonely.
- Perfectionism: People who compulsively hoard struggle with obsessiveness. They worry about making the right decision about what should be done with each possession. The process of trying to decide what to do with possessions creates distress, so they avoid making any decision and keep everything instead.
Neighbors and family members can be part of the solution. According to the Mayo Clinic, compulsive hoarding can lead to isolation and loneliness, which in turn can lead to more hoarding. Hoarding problems will only continue to get worse unless there is an appropriate intervention.
The worst thing to do is to go into the hoarder’s home and clean it up. Oftentimes, the compulsive hoarder will just revert to old habits or even worse. The hoarder must be motivated to want to make a change in their lifestyle. This motivation cannot be forced on them. Mental health and other social supports need to be in place to help them deal with their problem.
If you identify someone who you believe is a hoarder, be patient. This situation did not happen overnight. Compulsive hoarding can be treated, but it takes time to learn new skills and strategies to cope with their situation. Effective treatment of hoarding can take up to a year or more, not to mention the long-term continuous support needed to keep a hoarder from falling back into old habits.
Denise Dias is family and consumer science agent at the Johnson County Extension Office.