TLC’s hit television show, “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” has brought the disorder of hoarding into many people’s homes. Those who suffer, or who have family members suffering, from hoarding soon learn that it is an illness that not only takes over their home, it takes over their lives.
Hoarding is not well understood, even in the medical community, but the effects go well beyond clutter. Clutter accumulates to the point that it is often dangerous and unsanitary to live in the home. The hoarder can live with impaired mobility, which increases the risk of falling; normal daily functions such as cleaning, showering, and sleeping can become difficult, if not impossible.
But what distinguishes a hoarder from someone who is simply being messy, a packrat, or a collector? Hoarders have difficulty discerning the difference between junk and valuables, and cannot throw anything away. So, piles of stuff (trash, newspapers, mail, etc.) are simply moved from one place to another. Eventually the piles accumulate in bathtubs, kitchens counters, and all available floor space to the point that living, dining, and bathing spaces become unusable.
Hoarders often excessively buy and collect items or animals beyond what’s considered logical or sanitary conditions. They have a compulsive need to be surrounded by their stuff. If the collection includes animals, then homes can deteriorate into unsanitary conditions as feces and urine are not often properly disposed. Persuading a hoarder to remove the clutter or animals that are filling their home often results in anxiety and distress.
So, how can you recognize the signs associated with hoarding before it becomes a danger, and help someone who is already suffering? Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Weiss will provide an overview of hoarding and its treatment.