The prospect of moving a loved one to elder care is often frightening and fraught with emotion. After all, the individual is leaving their old home, possessions, and life behind to start over in a new place. Unfortunately, the issue is even more complex in cases when the elder has a history of hoarding.
Also known as Diogenes Syndrome, or senior squalor syndrome, hoarding causes unique problems in elderly patients. Along with creating unsanitary living conditions, hoarding can increase the risk of falls and prevent emergency personnel from accessing the home in a timely manner.
The good news is that families can work together to overcome hoarding and help their loved ones enjoy a happy and successful transition to elder living. Read on to learn more about senior hoarding and discover the best ways to deal with hoarding parents and grandparents.
How Hoarding Works
People often use the word “hoarder” as a casual term to describe those who are messy, untidy, or disorganized. However, the truth is that hoarding is a medical condition with potentially serious consequences. In some cases, elderly hoarding stems from dementia or frontal lobe impairment. Additionally, those who live alone for long periods or suffer a traumatic event like the loss of a loved one may also be more likely to hoard.
Holding on to possessions is only one symptom of senior squalor syndrome. In fact, those who suffer from the condition experience myriad side effects with the potential to affect their safety and quality of life in the coming years. If you think you may be dealing with a hoarding parent or relative, keep an eye out for the following signs and symptoms:
- Excessive accumulation of possessions
- Trouble discarding or parting with possessions
- Neglecting health and hygiene
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Living in a state of squalor
- Lacking shame about one’s home or surroundings
Treatment for Hoarding
Hoarding is a serious condition that poses special dangers to older individuals. However, the good news is that multiple treatments are available for those who suffer. When dealing with hoarding parents or other loved ones, the first step is to seek medical attention for them. In many cases, hoarding is a symptom of another health issue. For this reason, a doctor should examine and evaluate your relative to determine whether they suffer from dementia or another condition.
If your loved one’s doctor has ruled out a medical cause for their hoarding, it might be time to seek psychological treatment. Research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in treating hoarding. Additionally, a psychiatrist may prescribe medication for hoarders suffering from anxiety and depression.
Family members also play an important role in helping their hoarding relatives. When talking to a hoarder, it’s important to be patient, kind, and understanding. Additionally, you should strive to break large jobs into smaller tasks. For example, if the entire house needs cleaning, start by organizing just one room at a time. It’s also important to celebrate small victories, such as throwing out a few items. The goal is to work up to discarding larger items and collections.
Moving a Hoarding Senior to Elderly Housing
Transferring a hoarding parent to elderly housing can be a challenge. After all, the odds are that your loved one is moving from a larger space to a smaller one with less room for furniture, clothing, and possessions. If your parent struggles with hoarding, they may also be reluctant to leave behind personal items that bring them comfort and start over in a new place. Luckily, there are steps you can take to simplify the process and help your loved one feel comfortable about the change. Here are some steps to follow when moving a hoarding senior to a care facility:
- Find cleaning help – If you have family members or friends living nearby, you may be able to clean out a home without hiring professional help. However, if you don’t have a team of willing assistants, you may need to pay someone to help. Hoarding cleanup crews are available to eliminate homes and clean up hazards.
- Make a plan – Cleaning out a hoarder’s home can be time consuming. For this reason, you should schedule a cleaning time (or multiple times) in advance. Choose a date when you don’t have anything else going on, so you won’t feel rushed throughout the process. Additionally, you should ensure your cleaning date is scheduled well in advance of the time the house needs to be empty.
- Create an organizational system – Design a system in which you set aside places in the house for items to donate, items to keep, and items to throw away. The goal is to stay patient and avoid passing judgement as you and your loved one go through the contents of the home.
- Have realistic expectations – Hoarding behavior won’t change overnight. It’s important to proceed slowly and congratulate your loved one for small accomplishments. Avoid throwing away items yourself, as this is likely to cause the hoarder stress and anxiety.
- Arrange for professional cleaning – Depending on the severity of the hoarding, the house may require deep cleaning. After removing all possessions, schedule a session with a maid or cleaning team.
Hoarding is a serious health condition, and the issue becomes more problematic as sufferers age. For this reason, adult children often need to seek professional help to deal with hoarding parents. With proper medical attention, and the right attitude, you can work with your loved one to overcome hoarding and make a successful move to senior care.