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How to Help an Elderly Loved One with a Hoarding Problem

April 12, 2021

How to Help an Elderly Loved One with a Hoarding Problem: Hoarding is a growing problem, especially among elderly family members living at home. The American Psychiatry Association estimates that people over the age of 55 are three times more likely than younger adults to have a hoarding issue. As the population ages and more seniors choose to live in their own homes, more and more people may be living with a hoarding issue. How can having an in-home care aide help?

What is Hoarding in the Elderly?

It is important to remember hat many elderly people living at home are collectors. They may collect antiques, stamps, coins, or other memorabilia. Collecting is different than hoarding, for a few reasons.

The first is specificity. A collector is looking for specific items that complement their collection, either for aesthetic reasons (e.g. having a complete set of a specific type of coin) or for financial reasons (because rarer items are usually more valuable).

Collectors also tend to organize and possibly display their collections. People who hoard, on the other hand, are less likely to be discriminating in what they hoard. Old newspapers and magazines, broken appliances, and food are some examples of what people may hoard. Some additional signs of hoarding include:

  • Cluttered living area, to the point of creating unsafe living conditions for senior loved ones.
  • Not allowing others into their home, or hold social interactions in their home for fear of embarrassment
  • Inability to use certain areas of the home because of clutter, such the bathroom or kitchen
  • An inability to get rid of objects, no matter what condition they are in

Once a person has started hoarding, it may be difficult to get older adults to stop. Professional help is recommended to deal with the underlying causes of this hoarding behavior.

Why Do Elderly People In Home Care Hoard?

For many hoarders, including the elderly, they find a sense of safety in having objects around. They keep items, even broken ones, because they feel they may need them. They may keep ridiculous amounts of reading materials such as newspapers because they fear they may want to refer to them later.

For some elderly people, the compulsion to hoard is based around loneliness. Of course, hoarding also exacerbates the problem, as they may then not allow others to visit.

While the exact causes of hoarding are unknown, the attachment to these items are strong. Mark, whose elderly father hoarded newspapers for years, describes an early failed attempt to help.

“Back when Mom was alive, my sister and I offered to send them on a cruise for their anniversary. But Dad wouldn’t go. Because he thought we were going to throw out the newspapers he kept stacked floor to ceiling in the basement. Of course, he was right, we were going to do exactly that, but he didn’t know that when he refused the trip.”

Helping Elderly Hoarders is Hard

What many people whose elderly loved ones have begun hoarding don’t understand. Is that simply getting rid of the clutter may not help. Many people think that simply renting a dumpster and forcing the senior to get rid of things can solve the problem. Or tricking them into it like Mark tried.

But simply throwing away the stuff doesn’t deal with the underlying emotional issues. The process of cleaning out can be traumatic for a hoarder, and that trauma could lead them deeper into depression and anxiety, which may cause them to start a new hoard.

Stopping Elderly Hoarding One Step at a Time

Experts suggest a slow and steady approach to treating hoarding.

  • First, the elderly person should speak to their medical professional; to see if anxiety disorder or depression might be contributing to hoarding, and seek treatment.
  • Start with organizing. Separate items into categories.
  • Stress to the elderly person that hoarding is not a matter of personal taste, and that you aren’t attacking their choices, but that clutter from hoarding can be a health and home safety hazard.
  • Start slow. Some experts suggest boxing up a small portion of the hoarder’s things; and setting them aside or taking them somewhere else temporarily. After an agreed upon amount of time; if the elderly person doesn’t need or notice that the items are gone; they can be thrown away or donated, as appropriate.
  • Some county and local governments have resources to stop hoarding, and several not-for-profit organizations dedicated to helping hoarders as well.

Home Care Aides Can Help Halt Hoarding

Though it’s true that an in-home senior aide can’t solve a hoarding issue by themselves; having support from home care can be invaluable. An in-home caregiver can help with some basic organization so that things like bills don’t get lost in the clutter.

Additionally, because personal care needs may not be met in hoarders, a home caregiver can help with bathing and dressing. An elderly hoarder’s nutritional needs may also be going unmet, so having a caregiver available to provide meal planning and preparation is important.

Home Care Powered by AUAF is Here for Your Elderly Relatives

The dedicated professional caregivers at Home Care Powered by AUAF help your family have the peace of mind that your elderly relatives are being taken care of. Call us at 773-274-9262 or Contact us to find out more about how caregivers from Home Care Powered by AUAF can help.

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