Hoarding affects people of all ages, however, the average age for hoarders to seek treatment is 50. Hoarding is a recognized obsessive-compulsive disorder, in which a person “collects and keeps a lot of items, even things that appear useless or of little value to most people.” When someone has a hoarding problem, these items clutter living spaces and can create disruption to day-to-day life.
Hoarding disorder is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and often also overlaps with other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or grief. As an adult child of a hoarder, it can be a point of stress or contention. You may avoid going to your parent’s house or argue with them about cleaning up and throwing things out, as clutter around the house can pose a serious health and safety risk, especially as we age.
So, when your parents are hoarders, what can you do to help them?
Understand The Dangers Of Hoarding
When your parents are hoarders, embarrassment or shame can sometimes keep you from facing the reality of the dangers that come along with the disorder. Hoarding can pose serious health risks. Naturally, there is the risk of physical injury from the inability to walk properly through one's home, especially an elderly parent. Households overwhelmed by clutter are at higher risks for fires and falls, which can lead to injury and even death. In addition, the risk of disease increases, as hoarders lose the ability to clean their home of bacteria properly.
It’s important to remember that while you might be annoyed or frustrated with a parent’s hoarding, the problem is out of their control. The true dangers of hoarding exist when family and friends ignore the problem or avoid dealing with it head-on.
Help For Hoarders: A Checklist
When your parents are hoarders it’s not uncommon to experience a variety of emotions—frustration, anger, shame, sadness—that can become overwhelming. As uncomfortable as it can be, confronting the problem is the best way to provide help for hoarders. It won’t be the full solution, but it is the first step.
Here is a checklist for how to confront parents who are hoarders:
Remind yourself that they can’t help it; hoarding is a result of mental instability
Be suggestive not demanding
Tell them the effect that their hoarding has had on your life
Listen to your parent's perspective and try to find out why they are attached to certain objects
Talk to them about the feelings behind their attachment. Are they sad? Depressed? Anxious?
Once you’ve laid the foundation of acknowledging a parent’s hoarding, you can move forward with finding professional help for hoarders. While you’re researching and planning a hoarding intervention, consider asking your parents to wear a medical alert device to ensure their own safety. Medical Guardian’s home-based medical alert systems have a wide-ranging service area within the home and can keep your loved ones connected to help in an emergency. While it might not be an ideal solution to the hoarding, it is a great way to keep them safe while you seek out professional help.
Plan A Hoarding Intervention
Hoarding will not cure itself. Dealing with parents who are hoarders requires professional help. Employ a therapist who specializes in hoarding interventions, and can provide you and your family with a plan for success. Remember to be positive, supportive, and involved, as hoarding is not just an issue about collecting objects, it’s a deep seeded emotional issue as well.
As you move through the process of a hoarding intervention, it’s important to also take care of yourself. Dealing with a parent who has a mental disorder that endangers their lives is a very sad and stressful experience. Be sure to talk to a friend, a therapist, or a trusted advisor about what you are going through and consider joining a support group for people whose parents are hoarders.