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Hoarding…A Social Dilemma for the Elderly



What exactly is the difference between hoarding and collecting objects? And when does hoarding become squalor?

Many people collect items and arrange them in displays, neatly organized. These individuals are not considered hoarders. Some people have problems with clutter and live a messy lifestyle, but these individuals are not considered hoarders either.

However, those who allow the clutter to overtake the living areas in their homes until the home is clogged and unable to be lived in normally, can be considered hoarders.

Hoarding over a long period of time, can lead to squalor. As layers of items - especially paper goods and other assorted perishables - begin to break down, a home may become infested with pests and rodents. The smell of decaying matter and mould is also I indicative of squalor. 


A hoarder usually shows the following symptoms and behaviours:

  • The inability to put a correct value on an item. Cannot differentiate between junk and an item of value. Keeps everything, including junk mail and used wrappers.
  • Obsessive thoughts of running out of things and constantly checking rubbish bins and shopping obsessively.
  • Experiencing social isolation caused by embarrassment associated with the state of the home.
  • Anxiety when trying to sort through possessions and discarding items.
  • Deep suspicion of others who touch the possessions and intense attachment to everything (no matter how small), that is collected.
  • Falling out with family members who try to change the living conditions.
  • Other dysfunctional issues include loss of living space, tripping hazards, mouldy areas, financial difficulties, health issues and social isolation.


Many people who hoard become more emotionally attached to ‘things’ than they are to people. They have trouble distinguishing between what is trash and what is treasure, and eventually are unable to part with their collected items.

Many people hoard because they believe the item has sentimental value, may be handy one day or can be passed to a relative as part of an inheritance. It is commonly believed that hoarding is associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

While individuals of any age may become a hoarder, and everyone is at risk of negative effects, the impact is more detrimental for the elderly person. Older citizens are more prone to falls, fire, poor health associated with mouldy and damp rooms, and overall poor hygiene and diet.

Social isolation is a major factor of hoarding and the elderly can develop sleep disorders, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels and many other health issues as they become more distant from normal social interaction.


What can families do to help?

Quite often, because they fail to understand the disorder, family members can become resentful and angry at the person who is hoarding.

It is very important that all family members be aware that hoarding is a disorder and not something that can be easily remedied by having a big ‘clean-up’. Compulsive hoarders may be aware of their irrational behavior, but their emotional attachment to the hoarded objects far exceed the reason to discard the items.


There is help at hand. If you have a friend or family member who would like help changing their lifestyle, call a professional at Greengate Consultants and talk to someone who can help.