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Getting to Grips with Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome

written by: Rene Wolf • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 3/30/2011

Someone who has an excess of invaluable items and refuses to see the non value in them, may fit the definition of a person who has compulsive hoarding syndrome.

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    Compulsive hoarding syndrome is a mental disorder where an individual has extreme difficulties throwing away objects and as a result lives in a home that most would view as unfit for habitation. Although “collectables,” trash, food and dumpster finds are the primary items a hoarder will have in their residence, there are also people who hoard animals. Typically, the hoarder will not see their behavior as a problem, nor do they believe that the safety of their living environment is compromised.

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    Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome: Who Is Affected

    There is no specific age, economic status or sex of a hoarder. Compulsive hoarding syndrome begins approximately during the pre-teen ages and progresses as the person ages. Shared similarities of ompulsive hoarders include:

    • Other family members or caregivers who are hoarders.
    • The majority of hoarders may be perfectionists.
    • Hoarders are consumed with making decisions about throwing items away as “they may be valuable,” so instead of being in a position to discard an item, they keep everything.
    • Hoarders are often socially isolated. They become withdrawn from family, friends, social activities, and in many cases their employment.
    • A hoarder may have experienced a stressful life event. They may have difficulties coping following the death of a loved one, eviction, losing their possessions and/or divorce.

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    Signs and Symptoms of Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome

    A compulsive hoarder has an extensive amount of worthless items and possessions; however, they view the items as collectables. The objects could consist of magazines, junk mail, books, clothes, receipts and a vast array of “found” items. The home of a hoarder has items and trash stacked throughout. And they most likely have made a tunnel or path for them to walk through.

    The majority of compulsive hoarders do not have sufficient space in the kitchen for preparing meals and will often eat meals from fast food restaurants or directly from the container (i.e. soup from the can). The hoarder typically has one area in the residence, such as a corner, where they sleep and eat. A compulsive animal hoarder will have animal feces throughout the home and the animals will often be kept in cages or containers that are stacked floor to ceiling in all areas.

    Compulsive hoarders find value in all of their items and have “reasons” for keeping them. A hoarder will often use the terms “It was on sale", "I need it", "It can be fixed", or "I am going to sell it” - all of which lead the hoarder to believe the items have purpose. For example, a hoarder may have boxes full of condiment packets, plastic utensils or napkins and their reason for having the items is “they were free” or “I may need them.”

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    Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome: Risks of Additional Mental Health Disorders

    A person with compulsive hoarding syndrome may be at risk of serious mental and physical health problems, bodily injury and/or property damage. Someone with compulsive hoarding syndrome may be completely aware of the fact that how they are living has a negative effect on their social life. They will typically avoid having visitors to their home due to the disgust they feel for the chaos and will shut themselves in, away from the outside world. The hoarder may become depressed due to the lack of outside social activities and their inability to relieve themselves of the situation.

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    Safety Hazards For The Elderly With Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome

    Their living environment becomes a severe safety hazard due to the inability to move freely through the residence. Mobility is extremely limited which increases the possibility of falls. Elderly hoarders are at high risk of falling in the clutter and not being able to get themselves up for days at a time or until a caregiver arrives to assist them.

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    Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome: Further Dangers

    The home of a compulsive hoarder may be infested with rodents and insects which can often lead to disease and infections. A majority of hoarders do not have access to water, electricity, heat and air conditioning due to damage from rodents and/or lack or repairs. In many situations the structure of the residence has become severely damaged due to rodent and insect infestations, which result in damage such as holes in walls and flooring. The residence is so packed with objects that windows and doors are completely blocked; not a great situation to be in if there's a fire.

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    References

    Mayo Clinic: Hoarding http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hoarding/DS00966

    Care For You Inc: Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome http://careforyou.us/compulsive-hoarding-syndrome-2/