Hoarding Gaining Attention and New Approaches, from Harvard Women’s Health Watch

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You may think the home just needs an extreme makeover, but hoarding is a mental health problem that can be complex and hard to treat.

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The problem of hoarding used to be largely out of sight. Compulsive hoarders typically avoid visitors and rarely seek help. But television shows such as Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive have increased public awareness by presenting vivid pictures of hoarding to millions of viewers. Mental health professionals are also taking a fresh look at the problem, reports the November 2011 issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

Compulsive hoarders acquire and accumulate objects in such large and disorderly quantities that their living space becomes dangerous or impossible to use for normal activities. Stockpiling paper is especially common. Vast stacks of old newspapers, magazines, books, mail, and lists pile up, leaving no space to sleep or eat. Worse, the piles may catch fire or topple over, causing injury or death.

Hoarding was once considered a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but mental health professionals now believe it’s its own disorder and have come up with new criteria for diagnosing it.

Most hoarders need professional treatment, says Harvard Women’s Health Watch, but there are several things concerned relatives and friends can do to help, including the following:
Listen. Let the hoarder tell her story. Respect her perspective and her attachment to her possessions. Don’t tease or criticize.

Go slow. There’s no need to rush changes unless the hoarder’s living situation is unsafe or she needs to move to smaller quarters or a nursing facility.

Engage. Involve the hoarder in decisions about where to put things and what to throw out.
Provide structure and support. During the decluttering process, keep her company and help her stay focused on one area at a time.

Lift and tote. An elderly hoarder may need family, friends, or professional cleaners or movers to help with handling the clutter.

Work with others. Many communities have hoarding task forces that address psychiatric, legal, geriatric, and housing concerns. Check with your local Council on Aging.

Read the full-length article here: “When keeping stuff gets out of hand”

Also in this issue:

  •     What screening tests do you need after age 75?
  •     Even a little exercise helps a woman’s heart
  •     Sleep apnea and dementia in older women
  •     Cholesterol-lowering foods versus low-saturated-fat diet
  •     Reclast and Prolia for osteoporosis

Harvard Women’s Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications (http://www.health.harvard.edu), the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $28 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/womens or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

Media: Contact Raquel Schott at Raquel_Schott(at)hms(dot)harvard(dot)edu for a complimentary copy of the newsletter, or to receive our press releases directly.

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