Q: How can I help my 80 year old Mom stop hoarding? It’s beginning to be a safety issue! Jan G., Acworth, GA

Compulsive hoarding, is the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them. Hoarding will soon be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder in the upcoming DSM-V. Though hoarding could affect anyone regardless of age, or gender, a recent study uncovered that most elderly hoarders were female, unmarried, and lived alone.  This may be the case with your Mom so don’t feel alone in dealing with this problem.  There is help!

It is beneficial to understand why your elderly Mother has a problem with hoarding. She may:

  • Remember happier times by holding on to things, whether or not they hold sentimental value.
  • Collect items to have a feeling of control as she may feel out of control in other areas of life.
  • Combat loneliness and feel comforted by surrounding herself with possessions.

Ironically, hoarders may stop inviting people to visit because of all the clutter and it then heightens instead of helps their feelings of isolation.  As you said, it can actually become dangerous.  Falling becomes more of a worry and unsanitary conditions can hamper daily activities (like cooking).  Hoarding definitely impacts quality of life.

What can be done as treatment for hoarding?

  • Many hoarders don’t see the hoarding as negative so any actions must be done in a non-threatening gentle manner.
  • People who tend to hoard frequently identify their possessions as a very important part of their identities.  It is imperative to include them in any decisions to discard items so their anxiety is decreased.
  • Another reason to include them in the process of discarding the clutter is so they don’t feel you, as the child, are trying to take total control over their life.
  • Hire a sensitive professional organizer with experience with the elderly.  Having an outside resource helps reduce a combative family atmosphere.  Please visit www.napo.net for a referral near you.
  • Check with her doctor.  Medications such as SSRI’s and anti-depressants may curb the need to hoard.  Also, a type of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is very useful in treating hoarding.
  • Search the web for “Hoarding and the Elderly” for many reputable resources and advice.

Thanks for your question and I wish you the best of luck,


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