Hoarding disorder is a recognized mental health diagnosis in which a person has persistent difficulties parting with things. Hoarding often involves saving items like newspapers and magazines, clothing, and household items. Some people with hoarding disorder collect an extreme amount of animals.
Although hoarding usually begins in early adulthood, the condition becomes more severe with age, especially as they face age-related medical and social challenges.
There are no statistics available on the prevalence of hoarding in Canada, but based on data from the United States, hoarding affects 2 to 6 percent of the population.
Why we do it
Experts still don’t fully understand what causes hoarding disorder. Brain injuries and traumatic life events are believed to increase the risk of the disorder.
Some research has found that hoarding in the elderly generally starts before the age of 40, worsens after middle age, and is linked to social isolation.
Geriatric cases of hoarding are often associated with depression. Seniors with hoarding disorder often also tend to have other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or PTSD, or medical conditions, such as arthritis.
Research shows that hoarding that begins late in life is often associated with memory, attention, and executive function deficits.
Signs and Symptoms of Hoarding Disorder
It’s not always easy to spot the signs of hoarding because it’s often a private behavior. A buildup of clutter is usually the first sign, along with a person getting and saving items they don’t have the need or space for.
The clutter can become significant, often taking over spaces until they’re unusable and unsanitary and even hazardous.
The Importance of Getting Help and Who to Turn To
Hoarding disorder in older adults increases the risk for injuries, falls, and fires. The condition also often leads to social isolation and loneliness—something elderly adults are already at risk of.
Eviction and legal issues are also a concern when a dwelling begins to impact neighbours, such as if offensive odours or clutter makes its way into common spaces or neighbouring units or if there’s a fire.
While hoarding and the accompanying clutter can seem overwhelming and impossible to deal with, there are services available that can help.
If you’re worried that you or a loved one may have a problem with hoarding, it’s important to reach out for help. There are services that can help you maintain your home to improve your quality of life and health and safety.
CAMH recommends contacting a health professional to address any underlying mental illnesses, as well as services to help declutter and clean the home. Hoarding disorder and related mental health issues can be treated using therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), skills training, and medications.
Here are some resources that can help:
- Primary healthcare provider – Reach out to your or your loved one’s healthcare provider for a referral to a mental health professional with experience treating hoarding disorder.
- Your local hospital – Many Canadian hospitals and anxiety clinics offer therapy groups for hoarders over 60. For instance, Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Center’s Thompson Anxiety Disorders Clinic and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Anxiety Treatment & Research Clinic both run a 16-week CBT hoarding group.
- Support groups – You may find it helpful to a hoarders support group and connect with others who know firsthand what you are going through. These groups can also be a great way to find other helpful resources. There are also support groups for family members of hoarders, as the disorder affects everyone.
- Hoarding cleaning companies – There are cleaning companies that provide extreme cleaning services for hoarding. Some also deal with extermination and related issues.
- An In-home care agency – In-home care services aren’t just limited to health care. Our caregivers can also help with housekeeping, running errands, and accompanying care recipients to therapy or support group meetings. They provide companionship, which can help stave off isolation, loneliness, and depression. Having a caregiver also means an extra set of eyes to help spot the signs of an issue, like excess clutter or shopping, and ongoing help maintaining a clean, clutter-free home.
Characteristics of hoarding in older adults. Diefenbach GJ, DiMauro J, Frost R, Steketee G, Tolin DF. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3530651/
Hoarding – Where to go when you’re looking for help. CAMH. https://www.camh.ca//-/media/files/community-resource-sheets/hoarding-resources-pdf.pdf
Hoarding in the elderly: A critical review of the recent literature. Roan D, Landers A, Sherratt J, Wilson GS. (2017). https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-psychogeriatrics/article/abs/hoarding-in-the-elderly-a-critical-review-of-the-recent-literature/0562B3D59971F23439270219F0D14F36