Understanding Hoarding Disorder

For someone with hoarding disorder, the mere thought of throwing an item away can cause extreme anxiety and feelings of helplessness. Things that most of us would consider to be trash – old magazines and newspapers, tattered clothing, broken electronics – individuals with hoarding disorder consider to hold monetary or sentimental value.

Common signs of hoarding disorder

  • Difficulty categorizing or organizing possessions.
  • Suspicion of other people touching their items.
  • Obsessive thoughts and actions. For example, checking the trash for accidentally discarded items, or fear of needing an item in the future and not having it.
  • Indecision about where to keep things or which items to keep.
  • Loss of living space, financial difficulties, social isolation, and family discord.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “A lack of functional living space is common among hoarders, who may also live in unhealthy or dangerous conditions. Hoarders often live with broken appliances and without heat or other necessary comforts. They cope with malfunctioning systems rather than allow a qualified person into their home to fix a problem.”

What Causes Hoarding Disorder?

While the exact causes of hoarding disorder are still unknown, and the disorder affects people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds, doctors consider the following to be common risk factors:

  • Family and medical history. Someone who has a family member with hoarding disorder is more likely to develop hoarding disorder. Many people with hoarding disorder also have a history of depression, anxiety disorders, or alcoholism.
  • Stressful life events. Some people develop hoarding disorder after a stressful life event. Examples include the death of a loved one, divorce, or losing possessions in a fire.
  • Social isolation. Although some people become socially isolated as a result of hoarding disorder, others develop hoarding disorder as a coping mechanism for their loneliness.

Is there help for hoarding disorder?

Yes. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Treatment can help people with hoarding disorder decrease their saving, acquisition, and clutter, and live safer, more enjoyable lives. There are two main types of treatment that help people with hoarding disorder: cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication.”

Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Individuals learn how to discard possessions with less distress and learn organization and decision-making skills.

Medication:  Some psychiatrists believe that certain antidepressants help produce a more rapid improvement.

Hoarding: Worst Case Scenario

Hoarding disorder comes with a long list of risks: fire and safety hazards, unsanitary living situations, possible eviction and homelessness, among others. One risk that is rarely thought about, however, is the risk of unattended death.

The risk of unattended death can be especially high for senior citizens with hoarding disorder. Because senior citizens with hoarding disorder often live alone, isolate themselves, and have declining health, they are at risk of passing away and not being found for days, weeks, or sometimes even months.

Cleaning up a hoarding site where there has been an unattended death

The airborne bacteria that a body releases after death can be extremely hazardous and can negatively affect the safety and well being of future occupants if the home is not properly restored. This, paired with the mounds of hoarding materials left at a scene, is often too overwhelming – not to mention unsafe – for families to clean up on their own.

Aftermath has helped families and friends recover properties from the results of hoarding for almost 20 years. No matter how severe the problem, Aftermath protects your privacy and provides compassionate services designed to restore your loved one’s home and make it livable once again. Call us day or night.

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