While my grandma lived at her home, my mother and I would make it a point to stop by at least twice a week to help with the light cleaning, such as dusting and vacuuming. The underlying clutter we mostly left untouched until after my grandma died. What we found was amazing: a jar full of matches from various establishments, some ancient crackers and so on. I know, the situation could have been more challenging – she could have been hoarding.
Most people have experienced disarray in their lives or others. When clutter becomes out of control in the home, it can become dangerous. The difference between a hoarder and the average accumulator is that a hoarder’s belongings interfere with daily life, according to AARP. For example, a hoarder may sleep on the floor when the bed is covered in clothing or other items.
Anyone can become a hoarder, but it is more common in older adults. Researchers at Johns Hopkins hoarding behaviors were more prevalent in people 55 to 94 years old. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “People hoard because they believe that an item will be useful or valuable in the future.” The items might have a sentimental value or just too great of a bargain to get rid of. The items may also act as a touchstone to the person, thinking that without it they won’t remember an important person or event. Moreover, hoarding behavior can be considered hoarding disorder (HD) or as a symptom of another disorder.
According to research, older adults with HD have increased health risks such as:
- Falling: Pathways filled with piles of things can cause someone to trip and fall.
- Fire: The piles of possessions may topple or trap someone in the home during a fire or may even become a fire starter.
- Poor hygiene: The bathtub or shower may become a space to house more objects.
- Poor nutrition: Your loved one may choose to keep and eat expired food.
- Medical problems: Although your loved one may take their medicine as prescribed, clutter can cause more symptoms. For instance, mold and dust may worsen pulmonary disorders. Clutter may make it difficult for caregivers to enter the home to administer care.
- Insect infestations: Bugs can transmit a variety of diseases to humans.
Has your loved one’s clutter caused distress? Don’t let an overabundance of possessions get in the way of maintaining a warm relationship with your loved one. Be aware of possible safety concerns and do your best to provide the extra support to maintain a clean and safe home.
Check out part two coming next month.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 29, 2016. It has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.