Unchecked clutter can indicate a physical or mental health issue. They may be holding on to papers because they do not understand what is essential and what can be tossed. They may also have sentimental attachments to photos, mementos, cards, and other items that represent a time when they were happy, healthy, and independent.
Also known as Diogenes Syndrome or senile squalor syndrome, seniors hoarding is a health concern that you should take seriously. While physical limitations can contribute to seniors hoarding, mental and emotional factors may be more likely. Here are some of the warning signs that your loved one is developing hoarding tendencies:
- Loneliness and isolation
- Compulsive shopping
- A traumatic event or health-related episode
- Lack of cognitive stimulation
- Fear of loss
- Anxiety and depression
- Obsessive-compulsive personality or disorder
- Alcohol or drug dependency
Any of these alone or in combination may take your senior past the point of managing a household. When that happens, you may need to intervene or seek out a professional who can assist you.
Cause for Concern
A messy household may be unsightly and possibly unsanitary, but the home of a hoarder can also be dangerous. Some hoarders may collect newspapers, documents, bills, and other papers that they do not want to throw away, and these piles can be a serious fire hazard. An accumulation of food in cabinets and refrigerators may expire and lead to food poisoning if consumed. Likewise, expired medication can also be dangerous if taken or confused for current prescriptions. The sheer volume of things is also a tripping hazard for a population that is more prone to falls and physical injury. Other concerns include:
- Mold and mildew
- Increased isolation
Because of the many reasons why seniors hoarding can be harmful, it should be addressed for your loved one’s safety.
Break It Down
Many seniors do not realize their collecting has gotten out of hand, and if they do, they may be embarrassed or otherwise unable to ask for help to remedy the situation. Family members and caregivers may also hesitate to act for fear of upsetting their loved one. The task itself is overwhelming, but you can break it down into manageable chunks to get the job done. Here are a few suggestions to get started:
- Talk with your loved one before you begin anything. Make sure he or she understands the health hazards of hoarding and ask for permission to address it. Be aware that this can be an extremely stressful situation for your senior, and be sensitive about the effects the clean-up could have.
- Assemble your crew. Family and friends are ideal, but you can hire a professional team to do the hard work for you, especially hauling away the trash.
- Pick a date and stick to it. It’s better to have a concrete idea of when the task may be started instead of continuing to put it off for another day.
- Make a system. Perhaps it’s organizing by what to keep, what to donate, and what to trash. You can organize in your own way, but try to keep it simple.
- Work room by room. If it’s too much to do on one day, start in one area. A cleaned kitchen or bedroom can be its own motivation to continue.
- Go to the pros. Even if you do the sorting yourself, you can still arrange to have someone take out the trash or professionally clean the empty spaces.
- Schedule an appointment with a counseling professional to discuss your senior’s mental health to prevent a recurrence of hoarding.
Hopefully, this is enough information to get you started. Keep in mind that cleaning out the home isn’t the only task; therapy should also be arranged for your loved one to address the underlying issue that lead to the hoarding.
Best of luck!