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Sound the Alarm: Hazardous Homes in D.C.

John M. Thompson, Ph.D., FAAMA Executive Director, D.C. Office on Aging | 8/13/2014, 2 p.m.
Hoarding is referred to as compulsive hoarding syndrome and may be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
John M. Thompson, Ph.D., FAAMA  Executive Director, D.C. Office on Aging

According to the Mayo Clinic, “hoarding is the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them.” Hoarding is referred to as compulsive hoarding syndrome and may be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Individuals who hoard do not perceive that they have a problem with collecting unnecessary items; therefore, loved ones intervening experience challenges of trying to clean their homes. Let me clarify, a hoarder differs from a collector. A collector is a person who accumulates items, such as model trains and stamps, and deliberately searches for specific collector items of value and proudly displays them.

A hoarder’s home is cluttered with random items such as newspapers, magazines, junk mail, greeting cards and other items stacked on the countertops, sinks, stoves, desks, floors, tables, chairs, and other furniture. A hoarder’s rationale for keeping all of these items is because it is of value and may be useful in the future. A hoarder also has difficulty with organizing items and may move items from one stack to another, but refuses to discard any items. Such individuals have excessive attachment to possessions and are uncomfortable when others touch or borrow their belongings.

In a study conducted by researchers Steketee, Frost, and Kim (2001), clutter significantly prevented many seniors from functioning effectively at home. For example, hoarders were unable to sleep in their beds because their beds were covered with random items; therefore, they slept in a chair or couch. In some cases, some seniors had so much clutter in their homes that they were climbing over these items just to get to another room. This is very dangerous as seniors could fall and break a hip or arm while climbing over these items. Beyond clutter posing a fall hazard, it is also a fire hazard. Many collected items such as newspapers, magazines, and junk mail could quickly fuel a fire and can make it very difficult for the seniors to safely exit the home and for firefighters to enter the home to extinguish the fire. Lastly, those who hoard are reluctant to allow people into their homes, which could lead to increased social isolation.

If you know of someone who is a hoarder, I encourage you to talk with a doctor as soon as possible. This is an opportunity for a medical professional to intervene and assist the senior with coping with compulsive hoarding syndrome. I also encourage you to contact the D.C. Office on Aging to learn about available resources for assisting seniors with organizing their homes into a safe and productive environment. For more information, call 202-724-5626 or visit our website at www.dcoa.dc.gov.