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Aug 30

Understanding Hoarding in Older Adults: A Closer Look at a Complex Issue

Posted on August 30, 2023 at 9:16 AM by Jennifer Ambrose

understanding hoarding in older adults over an image of a packed house full of stuff

As we age, we accumulate memories, possessions, and sentimental items that remind us of cherished moments. However, for some older adults, this natural process of collecting can escalate into a more severe problem known as hoarding. Hoarding is a complex psychological disorder that affects millions of people worldwide, and older adults are not exempt from its grasp.

What is Hoarding?

Hoarding is a mental health disorder characterized by excessive acquisition and persistent difficulty in discarding possessions, regardless of their actual value or usefulness. These items can gradually take over living spaces, rendering them uninhabitable and unsafe. Hoarding is not merely a lifestyle choice but a condition that severely impacts an individual's quality of life, physical health, and mental well-being.

Prevalence Among Older Adults

Hoarding tendencies can emerge at any age, but research indicates that older adults are more susceptible to this disorder. As they age, they may experience significant life changes, such as the loss of loved ones, retirement, or declining health, which can trigger feelings of loneliness, loss, and nostalgia. Hoarding can become a coping mechanism to fill emotional voids or cling to memories of happier times.

Causes and Triggers

Several factors contribute to hoarding behavior in older adults:

  1. Emotional Attachment: Older adults may attach deep sentimental value to their possessions, making it challenging for them to part with items that evoke memories of the past.
  2. Fear of Loss: As they age, the fear of losing their independence, loved ones, or cherished memories can drive older adults to hoard items they believe will provide a sense of security.
  3. Grief and Loss: The passing of friends or family members can lead to heightened anxiety and grief, prompting older adults to hold on to possessions as a way to maintain a connection to their lost loved ones.
  4. Cognitive Decline: Cognitive impairments associated with aging, such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease, can exacerbate hoarding behavior as individuals struggle to organize and make decisions about their belongings.
  5. Loneliness and Isolation: Social isolation in older adults can lead to emotional distress, and hoarding may become a way to fill the void of companionship.

How You Can Help

When addressing hoarding in older adults, empathy and understanding are essential. Here are some supportive interventions:

  1. Professional Assessment: Seek help from mental health professionals with experience in hoarding disorders. They can provide a comprehensive evaluation and diagnosis, offering personalized treatment plans.
  2. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can be beneficial in helping older adults identify thought patterns that contribute to hoarding behavior and learn healthier coping strategies.
  3. Home Cleanup and Organization: Engage professional organizers or cleanup services that specialize in hoarding cases. They can assist older adults in decluttering their homes in a non-judgmental and patient manner.
  4. Social Engagement: Encourage older adults to participate in social activities and connect with supportive communities. Reducing feelings of isolation can positively impact their mental well-being.
  5. Long-term Support: Hoarding disorder is a chronic condition, and ongoing support is vital. Maintain regular check-ins with mental health professionals and support groups to provide continuous assistance.

Hoarding in older adults is a complex issue that requires compassion, patience, and understanding. It's crucial to recognize that this behavior is not a choice but a manifestation of deeper emotional struggles. By seeking professional help, implementing supportive interventions, and fostering a non-judgmental environment, we can assist older adults in managing their hoarding tendencies and improve their overall well-being and quality of life. Remember, every individual deserves empathy and support on their journey to healing.


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