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Caregivers Help For Seniors with Hoarding Disorder

caregiver with senior citizen- everyone smiling

If you are a caregiver for a senior with a hoarding problem, you are not alone. Hoarding disorder affects an estimated 2-6% of the population, and it can be particularly challenging for an older person. 

Hoarding can lead to unsafe living conditions, health problems, and social isolation. As a caregiver, you play an important role in helping your loved one manage their hoarding behaviors and improve their quality of life.

What is a hoarding disorder?

One of the first steps in helping a senior citizen with hoarding disorder is to understand the condition. Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition that involves persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. 

This can lead to cluttered living spaces, safety issues, difficulty organizing, and in severe cases, unsanitary conditions. Hoarding disorder is often accompanied by other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

As an in-home caregiver, it is important to be aware of these co-occurring conditions and to work with your loved one’s healthcare team to address them.

Support 

As a caregiver, your role is to provide support and encouragement while also setting boundaries and helping your loved one make positive changes. 

This can be a delicate balance, but there are many resources available to help you navigate this process. We will explore some of the ways that caregivers can help seniors with hoarding disorder, including strategies for decluttering, managing anxiety, and improving overall well-being. 

By working together, you and your loved one can create a safe and comfortable living environment that supports their health and happiness.

Understanding Hoarding Disorder

If you or someone you know has a hoarding disorder, it’s important to understand what it is and how it can affect daily life. Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. This leads to the accumulation of clutter that interferes with the use of living spaces.

Hoarding is not collecting

Hoarding disorder is not the same as collecting. Collectors have a sense of pride about their possessions and display them in an organized way. People with hoarding disorder accumulate possessions because they feel a need to save them, have difficulty making decisions about what to keep or discard, and experience distress at the thought of getting rid of their possessions.

Hoarding disorder is a mental illness

Hoarding disorder is recognized as a distinct mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association and is listed in the DSM-5.

DSM-5 is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States. It is often associated with other mental health conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and anxiety.

Symptoms of hoarding disorder 

Difficulty discarding items

Cluttered living spaces

Difficulty organizing possessions

Indecision about what to keep or discard

Avoidance of social interactions due to shame or embarrassment

Distress at the thought of getting rid of possessions

Impaired functioning due to clutter

Professional help is available

Diagnosis of hoarding disorder is typically made by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. Treatment options may include therapy, medication, and practical interventions to address the clutter, such as decluttering and organizing assistance.

It’s important to remember that hoarding disorder is a treatable condition, and seeking help is the first step towards improving quality of life.

Hoarding in Seniors

Hoarding disorder is a condition that affects people of all ages, including seniors and can be caused by a variety of factors, including cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Diogenes syndrome. 


Diogenes syndrome is a behavioral-health condition characterized by poor personal hygiene, hoarding, and unkempt living conditions and because it is most common in older men and women, it is also called senile squalor syndrome.

Senior hoarding can be a serious problem, as it can lead to unsafe living conditions and even health problems.

Hoarding as a health issue

Seniors with hoarding disorder may have difficulty letting go of possessions, even if they are no longer needed or have no value. This can lead to cluttered living spaces, which can be dangerous for seniors who may be at risk for falls or other accidents. Additionally, hoarding can lead to unsanitary living conditions, which can increase the risk of illness.

Help is available

If you or a loved one is experiencing hoarding disorder, it is important to seek help. There are a variety of resources available for seniors with hoarding disorder, including support groups, counseling, and professional cleaning services. 

These resources can help seniors to overcome their hoarding disorder and create a safe and healthy living environment.

Hoarding disorder can be a serious problem for seniors and there are resources available to help. If you or a loved one is experiencing hoarding disorder, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. 

With the right support and resources, seniors with hoarding disorder can overcome their condition and create a safe and healthy living environment.

Identifying Hoarding Behavior

Hoarding behavior can be challenging to identify, as it often starts gradually and can go unnoticed for a long time. However, there are some signs to look out for that may indicate hoarding behavior

Clutter

A hoarder’s home may be cluttered with possessions, making it difficult to move around or find things. The clutter may be so severe that it poses a safety risk, such as blocking exits or creating a fire hazard.

Unusable possessions

A hoarder may keep possessions that are broken or unusable, such as old appliances and tattered old furniture. They may also keep items that are no longer needed or wanted, such as clothes that no longer fit.

Collecting

A hoarder may collect items excessively, piles of old newspapers, magazines, or junk mail. They may also collect items that have little or no value, such as empty containers or packaging.

Emotional attachment

A hoarder may have an emotional attachment to their possessions, making it difficult for them to part with them. They may feel anxious or distressed at the thought of getting rid of their possessions.

Cluttered living spaces

A hoarder’s living spaces may be cluttered, making it difficult to use them for their intended purpose. If your loved one is using the bedroom as a catch all and storage facility they are likely not getting a good nights rest.

If you or someone you know exhibits these behaviors, it may be a sign of hoarding disorder. Seeking professional help from a mental health provider can be beneficial in managing this condition.

Physical and Emotional Implications

Hoarding disorder can have both physical and emotional implications for seniors and their caregivers. The accumulation of clutter and belongings in the home can create unsanitary living conditions, which can lead to health and safety concerns. 

The clutter can also create physical danger, such as tripping hazards or fire hazards. Caregivers must be aware of these hazards and take steps to mitigate them.

In addition to physical dangers, hoarding disorder can also cause emotional distress for seniors and their caregivers. Seniors may feel overwhelmed and anxious about the clutter in their home, which can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment.

Caregivers may also experience emotional distress and frustration as they try to help their loved one manage their hoarding disorder.

It is important for caregivers to understand that hoarding disorder is a mental health condition and not a personal failing. Seniors with hoarding disorder may need professional help to address the underlying causes of their hoarding behavior. 

Caregivers can provide emotional support and encouragement to their loved one as they seek treatment.

Caregivers can also help seniors with hoarding disorder by providing practical assistance with decluttering and organizing their home. This can include helping seniors sort through their belongings, disposing of unwanted items, and creating a plan for maintaining a clutter-free home. 

It is important for caregivers to approach this process with sensitivity and respect for their loved one’s feelings. Try to remember your loved one has an illness.

Hoarding disorder can have significant physical and emotional implications for seniors and their caregivers. Caregivers must be aware of the potential hazards associated with hoarding disorder and take steps to mitigate them. 

Caregivers must also provide emotional support and practical assistance to their loved one as they seek treatment and work towards a clutter-free home.

Psychological Factors and Comorbidities

Hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition that is often associated with several psychological factors and comorbidities. 

These factors may include anxiety, depression, anxiety disorders, ADHD, PTSD, social isolation, loneliness and perfectionism.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a common psychological factor that is often associated with hoarding disorder. Individuals with hoarding disorder may experience intense feelings of anxiety, which can lead to compulsive hoarding behaviors. 

Depression

Depression is another psychological factor that is often associated with hoarding disorder. Individuals with hoarding disorder may experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness, which can contribute to hoarding behaviors.

Other anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), are also commonly associated with hoarding disorder. 

Individuals with hoarding disorder may experience symptoms of these anxiety disorders, which can worsen their hoarding behaviors.

ADHD

ADHD is a comorbidity that is often associated with hoarding disorder. Individuals with ADHD may have difficulty organizing their belongings, which can contribute to hoarding behaviors. 

PTSD

PTSD is also a comorbidity that is commonly associated with hoarding disorder. Individuals with PTSD may have difficulty letting go of possessions that are associated with traumatic experiences.

OCD
OCD is obsessive compulsive disorder.

Social isolation and loneliness are also common comorbidities that are associated with hoarding disorder. Individuals with hoarding disorder may withdraw from social interactions, which can contribute to feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Perfectionism is another comorbidity that is often associated with hoarding disorder. Individuals with hoarding disorder may have a strong desire for order and control, which can contribute to hoarding behaviors.

Social isolation in seniors

Overall, it is important to recognize the psychological factors and comorbidities that are associated with hoarding disorder. These factors can contribute to the development and maintenance of hoarding behaviors, and may require targeted interventions to address.

Impacts on Relationships and Social Life

If you are a caregiver for a senior with hoarding disorder, you may have noticed some impacts on your loved one’s relationships and social life. Hoarding disorder can cause strain on familial relationships, friendships, and social interactions.

Family members

Family members may feel embarrassed or ashamed to invite others into the home due to the clutter and disorganization caused by hoarding disorder. This can lead to isolation and a lack of social interaction for both the senior and their loved ones. 

Professional caregivers may also feel overwhelmed and stressed by the responsibility of managing the hoarding disorder, which can further strain relationships.

Loneliness

Hoarding disorder can also impact the senior’s ability to maintain relationships and socialize with others in the outside world. The clutter and disorganization can make it difficult for the senior to have visitors or to attend social events. 

This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can worsen the hoarding behavior.

It is important for caregivers to prioritize the senior’s mental health and wellbeing by seeking professional help and support. 

This may include therapy, support groups, or medication management. By addressing the hoarding disorder, caregivers can help improve the senior’s relationships and social life, as well as their own.

Treatment and Therapy Options

If you or a loved one is struggling with hoarding disorder, there are several treatment and therapy options available to help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. 

It is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating hoarding disorder, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Therapy

One of the most common forms of treatment for hoarding disorder is therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that has been shown to be effective in treating hoarding disorder. 

CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to hoarding. This type of therapy can be done individually or in a group setting.

Medication

While there is no medication specifically designed to treat hoarding disorder, some medications can be helpful in managing symptoms. 

Antidepressants, for example, can be effective in treating anxiety and depression, which are often associated with hoarding disorder.

Support Group

Joining a support group can be a helpful way to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. Support groups can provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals with hoarding disorder to share their feelings and experiences.

Treatment Programs

There are also specialized treatment programs available for individuals with hoarding disorder. These programs typically involve a combination of therapy, medication, and support groups. 

Treatment may also include practical interventions, such as home visits from a professional organizer.

There are several treatment and therapy options available for individuals with hoarding disorder. It is important to work with a mental health professional to determine the best course of treatment for your individual needs. 

With the right treatment and support, it is possible to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Role of Caregivers and Support Groups

Providing emotional support

As a caregiver for a senior with hoarding disorder, you play a crucial role in helping them manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Your support can make a significant difference in their ability to overcome their hoarding tendencies and maintain a safe and healthy living environment.

One of the most important things you can do as a caregiver is to provide emotional support and encouragement. Hoarding disorder can be a challenging condition to manage, and many seniors with the disorder may feel ashamed or embarrassed about their symptoms. 

By offering non-judgmental support and understanding, you can help your loved one feel more comfortable seeking help and making positive changes.

Practical Aid

In addition to emotional support, caregivers can also provide practical assistance with tasks such as cleaning, organizing, and decluttering. 

Decluttering can be a very difficult process for seniors with hoarding disorder, and having a trusted caregiver to help them through it can make all the difference.

Support groups can also be a valuable resource for seniors with hoarding disorder and their caregivers. These groups provide a safe and supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences and learn from others who are going through similar challenges.

Health professionals

Mental health professionals can also play an important role in the treatment of hoarding disorder. They can provide therapy and counseling to help seniors develop coping strategies and address underlying issues that may be contributing to their hoarding behaviors. 

In some cases, an intervention may also be necessary to help seniors with hoarding disorder get the help they need.

Overall, the role of caregivers and support groups is essential in helping seniors with hoarding disorder manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. 

By providing emotional support, practical assistance, and access to professional resources, caregivers can help their loved ones overcome the challenges of hoarding disorder and achieve a healthier, happier life.

Practical Steps for Dealing with Hoarding

If you are a caregiver for a senior with hoarding disorder, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. However, taking practical steps can help you and your loved one make progress towards decluttering and creating a safer living space.

Set Goals

Before you begin, set realistic goals with your loved one. This could include decluttering one room at a time or identifying specific items to let go of. Breaking down the process into manageable steps can make it easier to achieve progress.

Ensure Safety

Safety should always be a top priority when dealing with hoarding disorder. Make sure that walkways and exits are clear and accessible. If necessary, consider hiring a professional cleaning service to remove hazardous materials such as mold or pest infestations. Fall related injuries for seniors especially are dangerous.

Build Trust

Building trust with your loved one is key to making progress. Avoid judgment or criticism and instead focus on expressing concern for their well-being. Let them know that you are there to support them and that you understand that hoarding disorder is a complex and difficult condition.

Take Small Steps

Taking small steps can help your loved one feel more in control of the decluttering process. Start with a small area, such as a closet or a drawer, and work together to sort through items. Celebrate small victories and take breaks as needed.

Letting Go

Letting go of possessions can be difficult for someone with hoarding disorder. Encourage your loved one, with helpful suggestions, to identify items that are no longer needed or useful. Consider donating items to charity or giving them to family members who will appreciate them.

Seek Professional Help

In some cases, professional help may be necessary to address hoarding disorder. A therapist or counselor can help your loved one work through the underlying emotional issues that contribute to hoarding behavior. A professional organizer can also provide guidance and support for decluttering.

Address Living Spaces

Hoarding disorder can make it difficult to maintain a clean and organized living space. Consider hiring a professional cleaning service to deep clean the home and address any sanitation issues. Work together to create a daily cleaning routine that is manageable and sustainable.

Tackle Stairs

Stairs can be a particularly challenging area for someone with hoarding disorder. Make sure that stairs are clear and free of clutter to prevent falls and injuries.

By taking practical steps and working together, you and your loved one can make progress towards a safer and more organized living space. Remember to be patient, supportive, and understanding throughout the process.

Compassionate Approach Towards Hoarders

When working with seniors with hoarding disorder, it is essential to approach them with compassion and empathy. Hoarding is a complex mental health issue that can significantly impact the quality of life of the individual and their loved ones. 

Empathy

It is crucial to understand that hoarding is not a choice or a lifestyle but a mental health condition that requires care and support.

As a caregiver, it is essential to approach hoarders with empathy and understanding. Hoarders may feel ashamed, embarrassed, or defensive about their condition, and it is important to create a safe and non-judgmental environment for them to open up. 

Showing compassion and empathy is a great way to approach this subject with elderly hoarders. You can build trust and establish a positive relationship with the senior.

Quality of life

It is also important to prioritize the quality of life of the senior. Hoarding can lead to unsafe living conditions, increased risk of falls, and social isolation. 

Your role as a caregiver is to help the senior maintain a clean and safe place to live while respecting their autonomy and choices. By working together with the senior, you can develop a plan that promotes their well-being and enhances their quality of life.

A compassionate approach towards hoarders is crucial in providing effective care and support. By showing empathy and understanding, prioritizing the senior’s quality of life, and working together to develop a plan, you can make a positive impact on the senior’s mental health and well-being.

Special Cases – Animal and Object Hoarding

If you are a caregiver for a senior with hoarding disorder, you may come across cases of animal or object hoarding. Animal hoarding is when a person has more pets than they can properly care for.

Object hoarding is when a person accumulates large amounts of objects that may or may not have sentimental value.

Animal hoarding

In cases of animal hoarding, it is important to ensure that the pets are properly taken care of. This may involve finding new homes for some of the pets or enlisting the help of an animal rescue organization. The ASPCA can help you with this.

It is also important to address any health and safety concerns, such as ensuring that the pets are up-to-date on vaccinations and that the living conditions are sanitary.

Object hoarding

Object hoarding can be more challenging to address, as the items may have sentimental value to the hoarder. It is important to approach the situation with sensitivity and understanding, while also addressing any health and safety concerns. 

This may involve enlisting the help of a professional organizer or mental health professional.

In both cases, it is important to provide support and assistance to the senior with hoarding disorder. This may involve helping them to develop coping strategies or enlisting the help of a therapist or support group. 

It is also important to address any underlying mental health issues that may be contributing to the hoarding behavior.

Overall, caring for a senior with hoarding disorder can be challenging, but with the right support and resources, it is possible to help them overcome their hoarding behavior and improve their quality of life.

The Path to Recovery

If you or a loved one are struggling with hoarding disorder, it’s important to know that recovery is possible. The path to recovery may not be easy, but with the right support and resources, it can be achieved.

New habits and skills

Recovery from hoarding disorder is a process that takes time and effort. It involves addressing the underlying mental health issue that is driving the hoarding behavior, as well as developing new habits and skills to maintain a clutter-free living space.

Root causes

One important aspect of recovery is working with a mental health provider who is experienced in treating hoarding disorder. They can help you address the root causes of your hoarding behavior, such as anxiety or depression, and develop coping strategies to manage these emotions in healthier ways.

Nutrition

Another important aspect of recovery is nutrition. It’s important to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle to support your mental and physical health. This can include eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep.

Celebrate all steps forward!

As you progress in the progress on the path to recovery, it’s important to celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem. Each step forward is a step in the right direction towards a clutter-free and more fulfilling life.

Caregivers are the most amazing and compassionate people I have known. Not sure where we would be without our special caregivers.

Resources

International OCD Foundation
https://hoarding.iocdf.org/hoarding-task-forces/

NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness
https://helplinefaqs.nami.org/category/62-mental-health-treatment

American Psychiatric Association
https://www.psychiatry.org/

The ASPCA
https://www.aspca.org/about-us#:~:text=Headquartered%20in%20New%20York%20City,a%20national%20animal%20welfare%20organization.

Your Local Council on Aging Centers should have a lot of information for senior care and social services resources.

Check with your State government too. The Commonwealth of MASS for instance offers
services for senior hoarders.

pic of author

Marj Bates is a life long ridiculously organized declutter-er and artist. Less is more are words Marj lives by in everything she does except collecting dogs. “Dogs are like potato chips! Can’t have just one.” says Marj. Marj wonders if growing up with a fanatically clean Jewish mom means her decluttering and organizational skills are in her blood.

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