ShareThis Page
Hoarding, a big problem among the elderly, starts in childhood, expert says |

Hoarding, a big problem among the elderly, starts in childhood, expert says

Stacey Burling
| Tuesday, October 9, 2018 1:33 a.m
Hoarding tendencies often get started in childhood.

Hoarding gets worse with age, which is why it’s often associated with older adults, but it usually starts in childhood.

That’s what Patrick Arbore, founder and director of the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Related Services in San Francisco, told a group of professionals who work with seniors recently. He was one of the speakers at the annual Regional Conference on Aging hosted by Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

He said people whose homes later become overwhelmed with stuff often begin having dysfunctional relationships with things between ages 11 to 15. They may cling passionately to clothes that no longer fit or toys meant for much younger children. This is an opportunity for parents to teach them how to organize their possessions and discard items they no longer need, skills that are often deficient in adult hoarders.

Arbore thinks much hoarding also stems from trauma or emotional pain. Hoarders fill the emotional holes in their lives with things that seem more trustworthy and comforting to them than their fellow human beings. He said he has had success at reducing hoarding by helping people address their underlying pain and learn better ways to cope.

A depressing picture

Overall, though, he presented a depressing picture of a condition that directly affects 6 percent of the population and causes much distress among families and friends. For the elderly, who are more likely to have dementia and physical problems, hoarding can also increase the risk of debilitating falls and isolation. The older population can be especially difficult to work with because their behavior is entrenched and they have a negative image of mental health treatment.

Hoarders can be pack rats, compulsive buyers or more organized collectors whose acquisitiveness has gotten out of hand. Eventually, they run out of room and wind up with narrow walkways and only a tiny place to sit amid what looks like trash to most people but is treasure to them.

Some hoarders grab good deals on furniture they plan to fix someday, but never do. “I am a rescuer of things,” one woman told Arbore. “I save them.” Some hoarders have a similar attitude toward animals.

“What do you see?” Arbore often asks hoarders. “I see Christmas time,” one woman told him as she surveyed the piles of debris in her room. “My cats are really flourishing,” another said, even though Arbore saw sickly animals along with some smelly, dead ones.

Unknown cause

The cause of hoarding is unknown. Arbore sees elements of addiction and compulsion. The condition may also run in families. Many hoarders reject offers of treatment. “When you try to help guide them,” he said, “there is so much resistance.”

Arbore said hoarding needs more study. There is currently no evidence-based treatment. While hoarders may seem obsessive, they do not respond well to treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder and anti-depressants have mixed results. Just clearing out their stuff for them doesn’t work. Most end up filling up the space again because they’re more comfortable amid clutter. He said one study found that about 70 percent of hoarders responded to cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of talk therapy that helps patients change their thinking patterns, when combined with skills training that strengthens decision-making and organization along with motivational interviewing.

Professionals, he said, should think of hoarding as a chronic, relapsing disease. “Just like when we work with alcoholics, it can be exceedingly painful, and we can’t save everybody.”

Stacey Burling is a writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Categories: Health Now
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.