By Jennifer Gibbons, LCSW, Coordinator of Onsite Services
I have a few family members that really love antique Victor-Victrola machines. These are the large gramophones with a turntable and amplifying horn in a cabinet. Over the years, my family bought more and more of these, until there was no longer room in their home to accommodate them. At this point, they built an addition onto their house to store more Victor-Victrola machines. I thought this was out of the ordinary and the word hoarding definitely crossed my mind.
Nowadays there are various television shows that follow someone whose lifestyle, and sometimes health, has been severely compromised due to the sheer number of items piled from floor to ceiling. These shows can be entertaining, but the scenarios are very real in the world of senior care. While hoarding affects a relatively small (5%) part of the population, it disproportionately affects elders.
Why are so many hoarders elderly? Trends have shown us that as adults age and experience the loss of friends and family members, some develop an urge to retain items that hold special memories, thus bringing comfort during a time of isolation and uncertainty. The meaning of seemingly trivial items can increase. This is often coupled with a decline in an elder’s physical and mental health, making it difficult to sort through a lifetime of items and decide which to discard. Limited mobility can also affect their ability to successfully remove items from the home.
So are my family members hoarding or just Victor-Victrola enthusiasts? Here are a few questions to consider when discerning if your loved one is collecting or hoarding:
- Does your mother display her collections proudly and keep items in good condition, or are the items in disarray?
- Is your mother able to access all areas of her home, especially the bathroom and kitchen?
- Does she welcome friends, family, and neighbors into her home, or has she become ashamed of her living situation and fearful of others’ judgment?
- Are important documents, bills, money, or correspondence lost among the clutter?
- Does she have difficulty selecting items to discard?
- Does your mother gather unneeded items because she is planning for an emergency or the price was too good to pass up?
- Does your mother assign an emotional attachment to various items that challenges arguments of health, safety, and financial stability?
- Does she feel overwhelmed by the clutter in her home?
Unfortunately there is no quick fix to hoarding. You will need to be patient and anticipate slow progress. However, with a tactful and compassionate approach, and the right people on your team the situation can be improved.
It’s best to consult with a mental health professional before addressing hoarding with a loved one. To better understand the situation and where to begin, contact a senior care advisor at Care.com who can offer appropriate resources and practical guidance. Call us today at (855) 781-1303 and we’ll be happy to help with your senior care challenges.