How to Help an Older Adult Who’s Been Hoarding

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Although the clutter in your senior loved one’s home may be distressing, you can address the issue by coming up with an action plan and asking others to assist you. Here’s how to pave the way to cleaner and safer surroundings for your loved one. 

Understanding Hoarding

Seniors stockpile items for several reasons. By understanding the roots of this habit, you’ll have more patience for the paring-down process. Knowing the causes will also guide your approach and the types of professional support to pursue. Here are possible sources of your loved one’s hoarding behavior. 

Dementia 

The drive to amass possessions could be fueled by cognitive decline and its associated memory loss, confusion, and impaired judgment. Collecting objects provides a sense of control and security for seniors with dementia. Cognitive loss may also cause your loved one to purchase duplicate items he or she believes are missing or stolen.

If your senior loved one has been diagnosed with a serious condition and needs help with tasks like meal prep, transportation, bathing, and grooming, reach out to Home Care Assistance, a leading provider of senior home care Mesa, AZ, families can trust. We also offer comprehensive care for seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

Diogenes Syndrome 

This disorder commonly affects adults age 60 and older. The term “syndrome” refers to several symptoms that characterize the condition. A person with Diogenes syndrome may not exhibit all of the symptoms. However, a typical sign is hoarding, along with poor hygiene, neglecting to eat, distrusting others, social anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive activity. 

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, these behaviors may sound familiar, but the triggers for Diogenes syndrome are entirely different. Primary among the triggers are mental illness, social isolation, depression, and psychological trauma, such as the death of a cherished person or an abusive past. Also possible are physical causes such as congestive heart failure and stroke.

If you see signs of Diogenes syndrome in your loved one, have him or her evaluated by a physician. To reach a diagnosis, the physician may do blood work, organ function tests, a personality assessment, and brain imaging studies, then devise a treatment plan. 

Caring for seniors with Diogenes syndrome or another serious cognitive condition can be challenging for family caregivers. Families who find it difficult to care for their aging loved ones without assistance can benefit greatly from professional respite care. Mesa, AZ, family caregivers who need a break from their caregiving duties can turn to Home Care Assistance. Using our proprietary Balanced Care Method, our respite caregivers can encourage your loved one to eat well, exercise regularly, get plenty of mental and social stimulation, and focus on other lifestyle factors that promote longevity.

Other Factors 

For a loved one who doesn’t have dementia or Diogenes syndrome, the hoarding could stem from boredom, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, social isolation, or emotional trauma. 

Seniors who are age 79 or older survived the Great Depression Era, and they likely remember being poor as a child and having to stretch possessions and live frugally. In this case, hoarding may reflect habitually scrimping and saving. 

Clutter can also result from having a long life. The factors underlying your loved one’s habit will determine your best course of action. 

Management Strategies

Dementia 

If your loved one has cognitive decline, proceed with caution. The things he or she has stashed are a source of comfort, control, and security. 

Begin the cleaning process by gently explaining why a littered house jeopardizes your loved one’s health and safety. Tailor your reasons to the items stockpiled: 

  • Spoiled food – brings insects, rodents, and foodborne illness
  • Paper waste – piles of newspapers, magazines, and old records are fire hazards
  • Blocked entrances – emergency responders can’t reach your loved one if he or she needs medical care or evacuation 
  • Unsafe navigation – stuff in the way of walking could lead to fall 
  • Towering stacks – can teeter and crash on your loved one and household guests

If your loved one balks at your explanation, wait a few days, then try again, bringing along someone else he or she trusts, such as a friend or other family member. You can also suggest that donating some possessions will bring joy to others.

Do your best to avoid arguing and showing impatience. It may take time to soften clinging tendencies. Regard whatever headway you make as productive. 

Provide distractions. If involving your loved one isn’t practical, divert his or her attention with fun and engaging activities, away from home if necessary. 

After your loved one consents to parting with objects, remove them from sight, eliminating the temptation to change his or her mind. 

Diogenes Syndrome 

If your loved one has this medical condition, your housecleaning attempts may be met with denial and resistance. 

Start by asking your loved one’s doctor if medication may ease symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or mental illness. If your loved one is willing to see a therapist, counseling can address underlying issues and change behaviors. 

If your loved one is cooperative, follow the cleaning approach for dementia mentioned above. However, since distrusting others is part of Diogenes syndrome, limit helpers to a few of your loved one’s friends or family members. 

Downsizing Logistics

Without Professional Help 

First, designate a central staging area such as a garage. Next, play some relaxing music, and address the most pressing concerns like spoiled food and teetering piles. 

Tackle one room at a time, dividing large tasks into small, attainable goals. For each room, create stations for things with identical destinations. For example, group together objects that can be recycled and paper you can shred. 

Give your loved one rehoming options, such as donating to a church, charity, friends, or relatives. Then, list items that will go to chosen recipients. Store them temporarily in see-through plastic crates. Papers can go in colored document pouches. If your loved one is able to help, suggest simple activities such as sorting through one pile at a time or making box labels. 

When poring through papers, distinguish between what to keep handy and what to archive. Establish an active file for bills paid within the last year. Archive all other statements for investigating later. When feasible, sort and label them by year, keeping what relates to your loved one’s present and future security. 

For vintage items, contact an antique dealer to assess their financial value. With your loved one’s permission, you might choose to sell them. To dispose of trash, contact a professional carting service. 

With a Cleaning Service 

Alternatively, you can hire a professional cleaning service that handles hoarding projects. Such companies will be sensitive to your situation, excel in organization, and know which items hold value.

If your loved one has numerous heirlooms, hire an estate sale company. Appraisers plan item distribution, setting aside those for donations and sale. They’ll also price possessions by their market value. With your permission, employees may negotiate the sale of valuables to private collectors and antique dealers, or they might auction high-end assets, earning maximum profits for your loved one. If you choose to hold a living estate sale, the company will handle all the details, including removing any remaining items. 

Seniors who hoard often have cognitive disorders and might need someone to care for them. Caring for a senior loved one can be challenging for families who don’t have expertise or professional training in home care, but this challenge doesn’t have to be faced alone. Family caregivers can turn to Mesa Home Care Assistance for the help they need. We provide high-quality live-in and respite care as well as comprehensive Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s care. Call us at (480) 699-4899 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today.