It’s a problem many families are embarrassed to talk about: a parent’s home starts filling up with clutter, sometimes to the point where simply moving around safely is impossible. Researchers aren’t yet sure why some people seem to become hoarders as they age, but there’s no question that hoarding is a health danger to seniors. A home filled with knickknacks, trash, and piles of paper is a breeding ground for pests, a fire hazard, and a recipe for falls. When your parents start hoarding, can they live at home safely?
To decide, you’ll need to know the reasons behind your parents’ behavior, what treatment and support options they have, and how alternative living arrangements may help.
Why some seniors start hoarding
If your parents are hoarders, you’re not alone. Nearly 6% of the population has hoarding disorder, and although the clutter may just look like clutter, clinicians who study hoarding in older adults says there can be very different reasons for it. These can include:
- a decline in health that prevents people from keeping their home neat.
- problems with planning and executing those plans, such as deciding to clean off a table and then doing it.
- another mental-health condition like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia.
According to the Mayo Clinic, other risk factors for hoarding are an indecisive personality, attention-deficit problems, a family history of hoarding, and stressful events such as bereavement or the loss of a home.
How to help seniors who hoard
Frustratingly, cleaning up a hoarder’s home won’t solve the problem on its own. An article on patient care by the University of California at San Francisco reports that many senior hoarding disorder patients may be upset by cleanups and may re-fill the home with clutter in a few months. Treatment that works depends on the reasons for the behavior, and can include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy with a licensed mental health professional
- group therapy and family support
- anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications
The first step is talking with your parents and their doctor, if possible. There may be local resources that can help, too. Some communities across the country have formed hoarding tasks forces to balance the rights of senior homeowners with the risks to their personal safety and the safety of their neighbors. Other resources you can turn to for help with your parents are their clergy, trusted friends, their landlord if they’re renters, and your local Area Agency on Aging. Professional senior move managers are often skilled at navigating the emotional and logistical challenges of helping seniors de-clutter their homes.
For many older hoarders, especially those who live alone and are socially isolated, the safest option may be daily in-home care or a move to an assisted living community. The combination of new activities, daily social interactions, and rules about clutter on the property can help quell their hoarding impulses while giving them a fresh start with a new home and a new social network or daily help with clutter-busting.
Hoarding is a challenging problem to deal with, and even if you can get help for your parents you may be the one to deal with the cleanup. In a future post, we’ll talk about what to do when you have to clean out a hoarder home.