Many people have seen the television program about hoarding, and they often make fun of those people and wonder how that could happen. Unfortunately, this is a fairly frequent problem that is seen mostly in older adults. They seem to be so attached to their items that they are unable to part with them. Then, their hoarding behavior increases and they can’t part with anything… newspapers, used and broken equipment, things in second hand stores and dumpsters that they bring home. This often results in further complications, including odors and unsanitary conditions within their home.
Hoarding behaviors become a clinical issue, and you must identify the symptoms associated with the behavior. It is difficult to deal with these issues when the hoarder is a family member, and you may need to call in protective services, a geriatric care manager, or possibly a licensed social worker to deal with the issues.
If not, eventually the Board of Health may get involved, possibly condemning the property or forcing your loved one to leave their home and possibly be institutionalized against their will. This causes anger, resentment, and other adverse issues within your family.
Often, family members must bring in a specialist who will intervene and attempt to resolve the issue by giving the elder choices such as: either have the place cleaned, sanitized, and maintained in a clean state, or move to an alternative living situation. This may or may not work, but once the options are laid out, specific follow through must occur in order to resolve the behavior. There are also other treatment strategies that a trained clinician can take.
Sometimes there are other legal and ethical dilemmas that arise with this population. There may be certain rights that a person has to maintain their own property and their lifestyle even if it may not be socially acceptable. Terrible clutter, while an eye sore, if not adversely affecting health, may not be in violation of any law.
Alternatively, if your loved one is not fully competent, this activity could cause problems if there is no power of attorney, health proxy, guardian or conservator in charge of their affairs, as it may then require court action. If the hoarder has some form of dementia, dealing with this activity will be even more delicate.
It is important to consider engaging a professional in this situation to reduce as much disharmony within your family as possible, and unfortunately, your loved one will probably not be thankful at the resolution. However, when hoarding becomes a health hazard, family must not feel guilty in taking action, but rather, recognize that they are doing this in their loved one’s best interest.
Hyman G. Darling, Esq.