Compulsive Hoarding

10 October 2016

While some people believe it is not, hoarding is a mental disorder that is difficult to treat and is often judged as a personal problem rather than a mental disorder. The new appearance of television shows that are specific to this mental disorder, place this disease in the spotlight. Compulsive hoarding has become something that is looked down upon and that the person whom it is affecting is just messy and disgusting. Everyone has stuff, even if it’s a kitchen drawer filled with old thumbtacks, a spool of thread or old birthday cards tucked aside somewhere.

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We are genetically programmed to collect, accumulate, and save a variety of things. Our forbearers saved anything that could be materially useful. So, to want more and to keep it is fundamentally human-a common, usually normal, and natural behavior. Compulsive hoarding is the excessive acquisition of possessions and the failure to use or discard them. “People who hoard typically cannot stop acquiring things” (Hartl 2009). Many individuals who hoard do not get rid of things because they want to avoid making a decision about whether to keep it or throw it away. Another central component to compulsive hoarding is cluttered living spaces.

Someone who hoards often feels embarrassed; avoid inviting others into the home; can’t find things; and often argues with spouses, family members or both about their hoarding problem. Hoarding is a disease that affects more than just the person suffering from the disorder but the lives surrounding that person as well. “Psychologists estimate that four million Americans do not ever throw anything away. During the last thirty years the size of the average American home has grown 53 percent, from 1,500 square feet to a little over 2,300 square feet” (Tunajek 2009). Hoarding behaviors can begin as early as the Hoarders 3 eenage years, although the average age of a person seeking treatment for hoarding is about 50. Hoarders often endure a lifelong struggle with hoarding. They tend to live alone and may have a family member with the problem. “It seems likely that serious hoarding problems are present in at least 1 in 50 people, but they may be present in as many as 1 in 20” (OCD 2010). Hoarding affects many types of people but is more prevalent in older adults. Many times hoarding is associated with a traumatic event in someone’s life resulting in the need to keep items in order to feel safe.

Hoarders often call themselves “thrifty. ” They may also think that their behavior is due to having lived through a period of poverty or hardship during their lives. Research to date has not supported this idea. However, experiencing a traumatic event or serious loss, such as death of a spouse or parent, may lead to a worsening of hoarding behavior. “In hoarding, people seldom seek to display their possessions, which are usually kept in disarray. In collecting, people usually proudly display their collections and keep them well organized” (OCD 2010).

Most often, people hoard common possessions, such as paper, books, clothing, and containers. Some people hoard garbage or rotten food. More rarely, people hoard animals or human waste products. Often times collected are valuable but far in excess of what can be reasonably used. The definition of OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Compulsive hoarding was commonly considered to be a type of OCD. Some estimate that as many as one in four people with OCD also have compulsive hoarding” (OCD 2010). People with OCD may be plagued by persistent, unwelcome thoughts or images, or by the urgent need to engage in certain rituals. They may be obsessed with germs or dirt, and wash their hands over and over. They may be filled with doubt and feel the need to check things repeatedly. ”In most individuals, compulsive hoarding Hoarders 4 appears to be a syndrome separate from OCD, which is assosiciated with substantial levels of disability and social isolation”(Alonso 2008).

Compulsive hoarding is also considered a feature of obsessive compulsive personality disorder and may develop along with other mental illnesses, such as dementia and schizophrenia. Dementia is the progressive deterioration in cognitive function-the ability to process thought. Some signs and symptoms of dementia are memory loss, moodiness, and communicative difficulties. Having memory loss and compulsive hoarding could lead to dangerous levels of stuff in one’s home and not remembering what you have or where you placed an item can lead to more acquiring of the same item.

Keep in mind that individuals with dementia are continuously losing parts of their lives. Losing a meaningful role in life, an income, friends, family, and a good memory can have an impact on a person’s need to hoard and or to “keep things safe”. Hoarding in this population is oftentimes triggered by the fear of being robbed. Hoarding can be treated and with psychotherapy and medications and help individuals learn to have a more organized lifestyle. Cognitive behavior therapy is the most common form of psychotherapy used to treat hoarding.

Learning to categorize and organize your possessions to help you decide which ones to discard is a form of treatment in hoarding cases. By practicing the removal of clutter with the help of a clinician or coach and then independently removing clutter is the usual method of treating people who hoard. Attempts to “clean out” the homes of people who hoard without treating the underlying problem usually fail. Hoarders whose homes are cleared without their consent often experience extreme distress and may become further attached to their possessions.

This may lead to their refusal of future help. “In addition, mental health clinics do not ask questions about clutter and saving possessions as part of their routine diagnostic interviews” (Frost 2010). Hoarders 5 Another form of treating compulsive hoarding is medication. The medications most commonly used for hoarding are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), an antidepressant. This medication causes a boost in serotonin levels in the brain which can alter a person’s mood, for example helping a depressed person feel happier.

Although some research suggests that people with hoarding symptoms are less likely to respond to SSRI’s, other research has found that the SSRI drug parozetine (Paxil) may improve hoarding symptoms as well as other symptoms associated with OCD. Medication alone does not appear to reduce hoarding behavior and medicine can be used to treat conditions that may make hoarding worse, like depression and anxiety. Hoarding has become a very interesting subject in America with the start of new television shows related to the disorder.

On TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive television crews go into the homes of extreme hoarders to explore the psychology behind their compulsion to accumulate and store large quantities of nonessential things. The show first aired on March 14, 2010 at 10pm. Each episode will tell of two severe hoarders struggling with behavior that has made every day existence unbearable for both them and their loved ones. With the help of expert therapists and organizers, the hoarders will attempt to unlock the key to their obsessions in the hope of reclaiming their lives.

Another television show that is popular is A&E’s Hoarders. The show first aired on August 17, 2009. Each 60-minute episode of Hoarders is a fascinating look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of personal crisis. The show is in its third season and continues to air people’s lives on air for everyone to judge. Hoarders 6 Both television shows are similar in their approach to the disorder and both shows bring a professional to the hoarder’s home to help them work through the cleaning process.

Many people watch out of curiosity and to keep their own habits in check. It can be a motivational show to keep your own house clean but it can also be a place where someone with a serious problem is judged and looked down upon. Symptoms of hoarding are associated with feelings of joy, delight, guilt, fear and anger. Symptoms also include the inability to throw anything away and having the feeling that that particular item will keep you safe. “It has been found that clutter can lead to health problems including stress, weight gain, and physical hazards from an unhealthy environment.

Most experts agree clutter can be a contributing factor to noncompliance to taking medications and keeping appointments, being able to exercise and eat well, and other healthy behaviors” (Tunajek 2009). The signs and symptoms of hoarding are apparent in some situations and in others because of the isolation of a person, no one may know how that particular person is living. Severe clutter threatens the health and safety of those living in or near the home, causing health problems, structural damage, fire, and even death. Expensive and emotionally devastating evictions or other court actions can lead to hospitalizations or homelessness.

This can further cause problems for the hoarder and make it harder to live a “normal” lifestyle. Conflict with the family members and friends who are frustrated and concerned about the state of the home and the hoarding behaviors can lead to depression and continuing arguments. The lack of personal connections due to hoarding can keep away anyone who might visit, ultimately causing more of a depression and loneliness. Having severe clutter can make it difficult to reach anyone who might be in distress inside the home and potentially that person could die if they cannot be reached for medical attention.

The clutter also makes it impossible to Hoarders 7 keep the home clean and sanitary for human habitation not to mention poor air quality from potentially rotting food or waste from animals. Hoarding can affect a person’s life in a traumatic way. That person can suffer from depression and be judged harshly by neighbors due to the view that television shows can portray. Many people who hoard do not get rid of anything because they want to avoid making a decision about whether to keep it or throw it away. The best option can be medications and therapy in treating compulsive hoarding with continued support from family and friends.

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