So many stacks of old magazines, unread mail and newspapers on tables that it makes them unusable, mementos piled in every corner, a bathtub full of unused items and the sour odor of decaying food; if this sounds like a loved one’s home, they might have an issue with hoarding. As people age, a tendency to not want to throw things away can progress to senior hoarding behavior. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that overall, the prevalence of hoarding is about four percent, however after age 55, that percentage increases to 6.2 percent. Hoarding is potentially very dangerous to seniors, as it can often cause hygiene issues, fall hazards and more. As a family caregiver to an aging adult, this makes it important to do your best to help deter senior hoarding behavior.

What is hoarding?

Hoarding occurs when someone acquires mass amounts of unnecessary objects and struggles to know when it’s time to discard of said items. The piles of objects in the house can also make it difficult to cook, clean, shower, or even use the restroom. Even though it may seem like throwing excess items away is a simple fix, many seniors experiencing senior hoarding behavior maintain certain justifications to keep their belongings.

To justify keeping their items, seniors will often say:

  • They need the items for future use
  • The items are unique or have sentimental value
  • They bought the items on an incredible sale that they couldn’t pass up

What causes hoarding?

The cause of hoarding is not completely clear to us yet, but some doctors and researchers believe senior hoarding behavior can be a sign or precursor to dementia or other cognitive disorders such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

What are the dangers of hoarding?

It’s important to understand that hoarding is more than just holding on to a few extra knickknacks or struggling to part with an old pair of favorite jeans. Hoarding often creates obstructions throughout the household, sanitation concerns, the risk of fire or even objects collapsing onto an aging loved one. 

Even more concerning, hoarding can hinder an aging adult from obtaining the home care services they need. If family members cannot properly navigate the living space or feel the conditions are too unsanitary, the senior or family members may feel too embarrassed to seek the help that is needed. 

How can I help?

Helping an aging loved one understand how hoarding is causing issues in their life is the first step towards helping them. And in that process, it’s important to be careful how you approach the conversation. Focus on being motivational, not judgmental, so that the aging adult can see that your help is an opportunity to improve their living experience, not judge how it’s been so far. Also, try to fight the urge to persuade or argue with them about what items should stay. Instead, focus on supporting them in the items they do feel comfortable discarding or giving away. You can even compliment them if you notice they keep a certain area, like a kitchen sink or the bathroom, clear of clutter. That may motivate them to continue the process.

Then, as the process gets underway, try these tips to keep it going:

  1. Find support – There are professionals who can help seniors with hoarding, and you can also call on other loved ones. De-hoarding a home is no small feat, so extra support can really help the process.
  2. Build trust – Making sure you’re not arguing with the aging loved one or trying to push them too hard can build a rapport with them that makes it easier in the long run to declutter their space.
  3. Get a medical evaluation – Asking a doctor to evaluate an aging loved one in relation to their hoarding can be a good way to explore the possible causes, such as dementia or other cognitive issues.
  4. Set realistic goals – You can’t expect senior hoarding behavior to be solved in one day of cleaning. Go at a reasonable pace that the aging adult is comfortable with, and don’t set strict time limits that seem too ambitious.
  5. Celebrate your wins! – Every little step counts. Feel free to praise yourself and the aging adult when you notice you’re both making good progress!

If you or a loved one needs help managing senior hoarding behavior, contact Home Care Assistance today! Our Holly Springs home care and care in the nearby areas can help lend an extra hand to the declutter process or even just to support the aging adult as they get rid of their beloved possessions. You can reach out to us online or at 919-436-1871 to learn more!