Hoarding is a behavioral disorder characterized by extreme clutter in a home that negatively impacts a person’s quality of life. Individuals who have a hoarding problem may also be unwilling or unable to discard items, regardless of whether it has a function in their life.
If your elderly loved one has a problem with hoarding, they might offer a variety of excuses to avoid throwing anything away. They may claim the clutter is necessary because of the sentimental value of their possessions, a need for future use, or a “great deal” they got at a store or online.
Hoarding may seem like a minor issue at first, but it can cause major problems in the long term – especially for seniors. So if you suspect your loved one has a hoarding problem, it's important to work with them to resolve the issue so they can maintain their quality of life and independence while giving you peace of mind.
How to Tell if a Senior Loved One Has a Hoarding Problem
If this is your first time learning about hoarding, it may be difficult to tell if this is impacting your loved one or not. The next time you pay them a visit, pay attention to your surroundings:
- Do their living conditions seem cramped?
- Is it difficult for you or your loved one to move from room to room?
- Are their countertops, sinks, and tables piled with dirty dishes, trash, and other items?
- Does expired food take up most of the space in their fridge?
- Is their medicine cabinet cluttered with out-of-date medications?
- Has their garage or basement started to become a dumping ground?
If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, it may be a sign of a hoarding problem.
How Hoarding Can Impact Seniors in Canada
Hoarding can cause many issues for seniors, including but not limited to:
- Difficulty moving safely around the home
- Unsanitary living conditions
- Fire hazards, particularly from clutter in the kitchen
- Poor nutrition or food poisoning from expired food and beverages
- Increased social isolation or refusal of help
- Poor medication compliance
- Inability of emergency responders to intervene in the event of an emergency
Hoarding may also be a symptom of a larger issue like cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, or Diogenes syndrome.
Although hoarding may be difficult for families to understand, there is often a rationale behind it. Many seniors become increasingly isolated with age and may begin to hoard possessions as a coping mechanism. Holding onto objects may remind them of better times. Sometimes, hoarding may give them a feeling of control over their environment as their physical or mental health declines and they start becoming more dependent on those around them.
How to Address a Hoarding Situation with Your Senior Loved One
Helping a senior loved one with a hoarding disorder can be difficult, but it is not an impossible task. Here are some ways family members can help a senior loved one who is experiencing a hoarding issue:
Assign a Point Person
Having one person take the lead when discussing a loved one's hoarding issue can be very useful. Speak with your family or caregiving team and determine who your loved one is most likely to listen to.
Take it Slow
Do not rush to clean a senior loved one’s home before they are ready unless there is an urgent need, such as visible tripping or fire hazards. Coming into their home and cleaning against their wishes will not fix the problem and may cause your loved one to resent you, which will worsen the problem.
Act Compassionately and Be Mindful of Your Reactions
Control your hasty reactions and respond gently when discussing the issue with your senior loved one. Let them know you care about their health, safety, and overall well-being.
Work Together and Offer Choices
Instead of making all the decisions for your loved one, offer them choices to help them maintain a sense of control. For example, ask which room they would prefer to clean first or if they want a deep cleaning to begin on a weekday or weekend.
Cleaning Your Senior Loved One's Home
After you and your senior loved one agree to work together to declutter their home, you may want to use the following strategies:
Remember to keep your loved one's safety top priority. Prioritize the most dangerous areas, like tripping or fire hazards, out-of-date medications, expired food, or toxic substances.
Set Realistic Goals
Decluttering a loved one's home can take some time. As long as you're making steady progress, don't worry about how much time you're spending on the task.
Discard Clutter Immediately
After an item is discarded, make sure it is removed from your loved one's residence right away. If any items are left in the trash or not removed from the home, your loved one may fish it out and add it back to the clutter.
Give Your Loved One a Sense of Control
Offer your loved one the option of prioritizing what areas to target. It can be helpful for you and your loved one to sort possessions into three bins: keep, donate, and throw away. You may want to repeat this process multiple times in the same room.
Celebrate Victories, No Matter How Small
Rejoice each time you clear an area or room. Tell your loved one that progress has occurred and things are getting better.
Get a Medical Evaluation
As you're working on decluttering, have a physician or mental health professional evaluate your loved one as soon as possible. Compulsive hoarding could be caused by a neurological disorder or cognitive decline and may be a sign that your loved one needs medical help.
How Home Care from Senior Home Care by Angels Can Help with Decluttering
If you need professional home care services to keep your senior loved one’s living space clutter-free, consider hiring caregivers from Senior Home Care by Angels. Our light housekeeping services can help maintain your loved one’s home and keep it clean and safe. In addition, our companion care services can fulfill your loved one's need for companionship and social interaction, which can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation and decrease hoarding behaviors. We also arrange transportation for doctor's appointments in case your loved one needs an evaluation while decluttering.
Contact your local Senior Home Care by Angels office to learn how our home care services can help.