In the US, we’ve become familiar with the phenomenon of hoarding through popular reality TV shows. For many people, however, it’s a very real issue that touches their life and the lives of their loved ones.
According to JSTOR Daily, estimates suggest that as many as 19 million Americans have a hoarding disorder. And that number may further increase, as more than 15% of the US population is expected to be 65 years or older — the prime age for hoarding.
Moreover, compulsive hoarding is a mental health disorder that can greatly reduce a person’s health and quality of life. So in this article, we’ll discuss how to identify if someone close to you is a hoarder, and how to intervene so they can get the help they need.
Identifying A Hoarder
As discussed in our post on the hoarding disorder symptoms, the problem often manifests during adolescence. Affected teenagers find it difficult to throw away their possessions, feeling distressed when forced to part with them and wanting to save them.
Hoarding then intensifies with old age, exacerbated by bereavement, divorce, fuzzy thinking, or financial crisis. When these adults live longer and age at home, they’re free to amass as much stuff as they want — even if these objects are beyond repair, useless, or otherwise headed to the dumpster — because they believe the objects will be useful or valuable in the future.
Hoarders acquire worthless items with no consistent theme, like newspapers, old clothing, plastic bags, books, mail, notes, lists, cardboard boxes, and so on. What distinguishes hoarders from collectors is that they are unable to discard these worthless items; their stuff eventually takes over their living space and causes impairment.
In some cases, the seemingly worthless objects hold sentimental value, so they’re unique and irreplaceable in a hoarder’s eyes. Their possessions may have previously belonged to a deceased spouse or an adult child no longer living at home, so hoarding is a coping mechanism to feel safe and consoled.
Sometimes, hoarding may occur as a symptom of neurodegenerative disorders or conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder or traumatic brain injury.
3 Steps for Staging a Hoarding Intervention
Unfortunately, persistent hoarding disorders can cause a number of problems. The lack of a functional living space can lead to unhealthy and outright dangerous conditions, for one. Hoarders often live with broken appliances and cope with malfunctioning systems, rather than allow qualified professionals into their homes to fix their problems.
This may create fire hazards, tripping hazards, and other health code violations. Poor living conditions also strain relationships and interfere with social or work activities. People sharing a home with a hoarder could become angry, resentful, or depressed due to the state of their house. If you suspect your loved one is a hoarder, here are three main steps for staging an intervention.
Step 1) Plan Your Care Approach
Hoarding is a unique problem because unless you visit someone’s home, you won’t really know about it. As an article from the Australian Prescriber notes, it’s never immediately obvious that a patient has a hoarding disorder, and the behavior often first comes to light through sources like relatives, neighbors, service providers, and other members of the community.
Given this scenario, a guardian must be the first to make a decision about the intervention and establish a realistic care plan. The main goal of the intervention care plan is to persuade the hoarder to make one visit with an experienced therapist. This means family and friends should first discuss with said therapist about the situation and learn what treatment entails.
Then, the group should discuss what to say to the hoarder; a practice session is recommended to maintain a united front. Each person must take turns talking to the hoarder about the effects of their behavior on everyone else’s lives.
Once they face a supportive and non-judgmental group, a hoarder must accept needing treatment.
Step 2) Encourage a Hoarder To Seek Professional Help
Immediately following the intervention, a treatment session can be conducted. Hoarding is difficult to treat, but cognitive-behavioral therapy can vastly improve health outcomes.
An experienced therapist can address compulsive acquisition, difficulty in discarding, clutter and disorganization through their sessions. They will work through deeply-rooted issues, thoughts, and feelings related to acquiring behaviors, and provide the patient with medication if necessary.
While the pandemic is still ongoing, a telehealth consultation with a psychologist could be the best course of action. As SymptomFind points out, virtual visits over Zoom are now the norm — as telehealth appointments increased tenfold between March 2020 and March 2021.
Telemedicine also helps keep the patient more comfortable, as at-home sessions are more comfortable and private. Eventually, hoarding patients may learn to tolerate the anxiety associated with discarding objects, and better organize themselves for a safer, fulfilling life.
Step 3) Begin The Decluttering Process
Decluttering for a hoarder is a long and tiring process, so your loved one will need a lot of help. The hoarding may have been so severe that the home has become hazardous, so any attempt to deep clean should place an emphasis on safety, using personal protective gear like face masks and gloves.
Sometimes, families opt to hire professional hoarding cleaners instead. Whichever solution it may be, this process should be done slowly and at the patient’s pace. Don’t declutter without the patient, or you risk alienating him or her and making them more resistant to treatment. It’s important to help them fully accept letting go of their objects.
According to a study from the University of Bath, we all have a strong emotional connection with our personal things. While ordinary people can push past these vivid, positive memories to let objects go, hoarders let said memories get in the way of discarding objects. They need a strong support system that can discuss their reasons for keeping items and encourage them to come up with their own decisions for positive change.
It will also be very helpful for the intervention group to assist in sorting and organizing with the patient, as hoarders’ tendency to be overwhelmed may contribute to the struggle.
Conclusion On Staging A Hoarder Intervention
Overall, an intervention can be scary and daunting for the person facing it. By working with their loved ones and taking it one room at a time, a patient can eventually minimize their hoarding tendencies.
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