Compulsive hoarding in older adults

Compulsive hoarding disorder occurs when a person has a difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. This person usually experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of items, often resulting in the extreme buildup of things, regardless of their actual value.

This disorder results in a chaotic and sometimes dangerous living conditions, as the homes of of those who suffer from this disorder can be completely filled with their belongings – with all rooms and surfaces crowded with objects.

The risk of becoming a hoarder increases with age. A study by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that the overall prevalence of hoarding behavior is around 4%, but this number increases to 6.2% in people over the age of 55.

It is thought that this happens because, as we age, many face a decline in the quality of life, and frequently their social interactions tend to be reduced. Older adults feel alone and separated from the outside world, and as a consequence, they begin to adopt behaviors that seem to help them cope with isolation and depression.

The main symptoms of this disorder appear when older adults have a harder time letting things go, resulting in living spaces that are extremely crowded and unhealthy. Some hallmarks of this disorder include:

  • Excessively acquiring objects that are not necessary and for which there is no space.
  • Having a persistent struggle when discarding or disposing their things regardless of their real value.
  • Feeling the need to put items away and worrying about getting rid of them.
  • Accumulating clutter to the point that a room becomes unusable.
  • Having a tendency toward indecision, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, planning and organization issues.

This problem puts the well-being of older adults at serious risk. For example, an older person with mobility problems has a high risk of falling or tripping due to the clutter. An older adult suffering from respiratory disease could endanger her/his health because of an accumulation of dust and mold generated by a great deal of clutter than prevents a person from being able to clean. of unused objects.

To help a compulsive hoarder, it is important to understand that in most cases the person cannot be forced to do anything they do not want to do and blame/punishment will not help the situation. The best way to be of assistance is to accompanying the person in the process, through the following steps:

  • Do not argue or offend: a conflictive attitude will only result in a person getting set in their behavior and refusing to think of ways to solve the situation.
  • Show empathy: try to get the person to talk about why hanging on to these things is important to them. Frequently, this behavior results from trauma.
  • Respect their decisions: Remember that you are dealing with an adult who has the right to make decisions about their own belongings. Try not to get into an argument, discuss how these living conditions can result in damage to their health.
  • Reflect on life: Show them that there are things more important than material possessions, that their life has a lot of value, regardless of what they own, and that moments and memories are not only tied to objects.
  • Set achievable goals: to help a compulsive hoarder, it is important to set achievable goals. It will hardly be possible to dispose of everything in one sitting. Remember that this is a process and that you will need several interventions.
  • Seek help: If you can’t do it alone, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional to ease this process.

It is important to recognize that this is a disorder and in most cases this disorder masks other issues such as loneliness or depression. It is important to treat these other illnesses in order to execute a plan successfully.


Daily Caregiving:

Mayo Clinic:

Aging Care:

Originally published by The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA): Source

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