Seniors & Hoarding: When to Get Help

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 30 August 2010

Whether it’s in a drawer, closet, shed, attic, room, or all of the above, everyone has junk they don’t need. We’ve all heard it said, when visiting someone’s home (or perhaps you’ve said it yourself): “Don’t go in there, that’s our junk room.”

Of course there are times in our lives when certain areas of our homes are less than tidy. Take-out menus and outdated phone books can quickly pile up in the kitchen drawer; patio furniture comes in for the winter months and clutters the garage; paint cans, brushes and drop cloths muddle the room when it’s time for a new coat of color. A work weekend or two often brings the house back into order.

But when the clutter takes over, there may be a more serious issue at hand.

Two new shows, Hoarding and Hoarders, delve into the wild world of compulsive hoarders. I’ve never watched either of these programs, but I’ve seen a few similar shows (TLC’s Clean Sweep, for example) – and some homes/individuals that could easily qualify for participation.

Hoarding is a fascinating though frightening condition – and sadly, it afflicts many seniors.

As a result of living through the Depression and World Wars (or emigrating from countries where frugality was a way of life), older adults are more prone to compulsive hoarding. There’s nothing wrong with saving useful items that still have a purpose, and many seniors are experts in the “waste not, want not” lifestyle.  But as they experience accumulated losses, i.e. the ability to drive or make decisions, control of their bodies, friends, family members, or a spouse, the results can be disastrous.

These life crises may cause some seniors to become “paralyzed” and unable to keep up with everyday life (putting away clothes, sorting mail, cleaning the fridge, etc.); in some cases, the loss of a spouse who carried the weight in keeping the home tidy is the cause for clutter; for others, an attachment to things rather than people provides a false sense of comfort or security, or they cannot part with certain items because they belonged to a deceased loved one (or were given to them by loved ones – cards from grandchildren, report cards from children, etc.). All of these behaviors can spiral into hazardous living conditions, poor health & nutrition, and a host of other issues, masking what are often the true root causes: anxiety, depression, or even grief.

Several interesting articles tackle the subject in greater depth. They’re worth a read, especially if you know someone who needs help.

Here’s a startling quote from one of the pieces:

“One U.S. study, for instance, found that 45 percent of older hoarders could not use their refrigerators, 42 percent could not use their kitchen sink or bathtub and 10 percent could not use their toilet.”

Getting rid of excess junk is one thing. Not being able to use your toilet, tub, or fridge is another.

If you know someone who needs help, don’t just recommend they watch an episode of Hoarders. Be compassionate and kind, and understand that there was likely a life-changing event (either long past or recent) that was never fully resolved. Start slowly. And if the task is too much for one person or one family, or if it’s emotionally difficult to be involved, call the professionals.

Read more at:
Hoarding is great TV but clutter is big problem for Seniors
Hoarding, depression a health risk for seniors

-Michelle Seitzer

There are 4 Comments about this post

  1. Gabe says,

    How can I get my senior citizen sister to clean her house when she is a hoarder an also has dementia and my wife and daughters, don’t want her over at all. She was at our house, but they made me send her home. And her home is in shambles, very very bad condition not fit for anyone to live in!


    on 16 May 2012 / 12:16 PM

  2. That’s a very difficult situation, Gabe. Have you considered enlisting the help of a professional organizer?


    on 16 May 2012 / 2:43 PM

  3. One of the best ways to approach a friend or loved one about their condition is to take the time to understand which type of hoarding they suffer from. This article gives great advice on not only how to determine which type of hoarding your loved one may struggle with, but offers advice on how to resolve the issue.


    on 04 October 2013 / 4:47 PM

  4. That’s a great tip/approach! Thanks for sharing it, and thanks for sharing the article too.


    on 07 October 2013 / 9:30 AM


Do you have something to say?