How to Help Seniors With Hoarding Problems
The next time you visit an elderly parent or beloved senior, take a good look around their home for signs of clutter or untidiness.
- Are living conditions cramped?
- Is it difficult to move from room to room?
- Can you find open spaces to sit down or place your purse?
- Are countertops, sinks, and tables piled with dirty dishes and other items?
- Does the garage or basement appear to be a dumping ground?
- Are out-of-date medications and expired food items creating a mess?
If so, your elderly loved one may have a hoarding problem.
What is Hoarding and Its Effects on Seniors?
Hoarding is a behavioral disorder characterized by extreme clutter in a home that negatively impacts a person’s quality of life. An individual’s unwillingness or inability to discard items is also an indication.
Seniors who hoard will offer many excuses to avoid throwing anything away – even items they don’t want or need. They may claim the clutter is due to sentimental value, a need for future use, or a “great deal” they got at a store or online.
Hoarding may not seem dangerous, but it can cause major problems – especially for vulnerable people such as seniors. The risks of hoarding include:
- Difficulty moving safely around the home
- Fire hazards, particularly in the kitchen
- Unsanitary living conditions
- Poor nutrition or food poisoning from expired food and beverages
- Poor medication compliance
- Refusal of help and increased social isolation
- Inability of emergency responders to reach them in the event of an emergency
Although hoarding may be difficult to understand, there is often a rationale behind it. Many seniors become increasingly isolated with age and may begin to hoard things as a coping mechanism. Holding onto objects may remind them of better times. Sometimes, hoarding may give them a feeling of control over their environment as their physical or mental autonomy declines.
Hoarding may also be related to cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, or Diogenes syndrome.
Addressing a Hoarding Situation With Seniors
Helping people with a hoarding disorder is a challenge, but it is not impossible. Here are some helpful suggestions for family members to consider when handling a hoarding issue:
- Assign a point person
Having one person take the lead when discussing hoarding behaviors can be very useful. Speak with the caregiving team and determine who your loved one is likely to listen to the most.
- Work together and offer choices
Instead of making all the decisions for an older adult, offer them choices to help them maintain a sense of control. For example, ask if they would prefer to clean the bedroom or kitchen first or if they want a deep cleaning to begin Monday or on the weekend?
- Control rash reactions and be compassionate
Control your hasty reactions and respond gently when communicating with your senior. Let them know you care about their health, safety, and overall well-being.
- Take it slow
Do not rush to clean a senior’s home before they are ready unless there is immediate danger, such as visible tripping or fire hazards. Coming into a senior’s home and cleaning against their wishes will not fix the problem and may exacerbate it through resentment.
Cleaning Your Senior’s Home
After there is a mutual agreement for the need to declutter the home, you may want to use the following strategies:
- Practice safety first
Start with the most dangerous areas. Remove any tripping or fire hazards as well as out-of-date medications, expired food, or toxic substances.
- Give them a sense of control
Offer the choice of what areas to target. It can be helpful to sort possessions into three bins: keep, donate, and throw away. You may want to repeat this process multiple times in the same room.
- Remove items immediately
After an item is discarded, make sure to remove it from their residence as soon as possible. Items left in the trash or not removed from the home may be fished out and added back to the clutter.
- Celebrate victories
Rejoice each time you clear an area or room. Tell your loved one that progress has occurred and things are getting better.
- Set realistic goals
Decluttering a home may take a long time. As long as progress is steady, you are on the right track.
- Get a medical evaluation Have a physician or mental health professional evaluate your loved one as soon as possible. Compulsive hoarding could be caused by a neurological disorder or cognitive decline and may be a sign that medical help is needed.
Professional Home Care Can Combat Hoarding
If you need professional home care services to keep your senior’s living space free of clutter, consider Visiting Angels. Our dedicated caregivers can help maintain your loved one’s home, keep it clean and safe, and provide a sense of social engagement that may decrease hoarding behaviors.