Hoarding disorder is surprisingly common, affecting 2 to 5% of Americans. It can interfere with daily activities such as cooking and sleeping, increase health risks from home accidents and poor sanitation, and make it difficult to leave the house in an emergency. It also strains family ties. If you think that someone close to you is a hoarder, here are nine things you should know.
Hoarding disorder is a distinct mental condition
For many years ‘compulsive hoarding’ was considered a symptom or a subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder or obsessive compulsive personality disorder. Over the last decade, research has confirmed that hoarding and OCD and are genetically and neurologically distinct and have different diagnoses. Hoarding disorder is now listed separately in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Hoarding is not the same as collecting
Collectors seek out a specific type of items such as action figures, Beatles memorabilia or comic books. They keep their collections organized, displayed or wrapped and sealed. People with hoarding disorder tend to save a variety of random items and store them haphazardly. A collector might cut out newspaper stories on a particular topic, such as UFOs, and paste them into a scrapbook. A hoarder might keep several years’ worth of newspapers stacked to the ceiling.
Hoarding runs in families
Hoarding is more common in people who have a relative with the disorder. It is inherited as a recessive trait, and researchers have identified a gene that may make people more susceptible to the condition. Hoarding symptoms tend to first appear between the ages of 11 and 15, but parental control over living space limits the extent of hoarding in young people. The disorder develops over time with hoarding behavior and its consequences becoming progressively worse.
Hoarding can be triggered by a traumatic event
A stressful life event can trigger or exacerbate hoarding symptoms. After a divorce or the death of a loved one, a hoarder may cling to items because, unlike people, they can’t die and will never leave. When people with a minor clutter problem experience a break-in or burglary, hoarding behaviors often escalate. They may try to make their home an impenetrable fortress, stacking piles of junk against doors or windows to stop intruders from entering.
Many people hoard for the future
Most normal people save some useless items thinking they may become useful in the future. For example, you might keep a closet full of clothes that no longer fit in the hope that you’ll lose weight or the fear that you’ll regain weight. You might keep broken appliances in the garage because you plan to fix them and sell them on someday. People with hoarding disorder similarly save things because they think they might use them later. They just keep far too many.
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Hoarders have unique psychological traits
Everyone attaches sentimental or nostalgic value to objects they associate with happy memories, such as a childhood teddy bear. Hoarders tend to have an unusually strong emotional attachment to a large number and wide variety of items. They may refuse to discard something because they anticipate that losing it would cause them to grieve. When hoarders try to decide whether or not to throw away an item, they experience great anxiety and fear that they will make the wrong decision. They avoid anxiety by simply allowing things to accumulate.
Hoarders let stuff take over their homes
The homes of long-term hoarders become cluttered to the point where rooms cannot be used for their intended purposes. Tables and desks become covered in piles of junk mail or magazines and can no longer be used for eating or working. Things piled on top of the stove and in the sink mean the kitchen can no longer be used for cooking. Tubs and shower stalls get filled with junk and can’t be used for bathing.
Hoarders can become socially isolated
When clutter accumulates to the point where it becomes embarrassing, people with hoarding disorder often stop letting in visitors and may keep the curtains drawn to stop people looking inside. They cannot socialize with friends or relatives in their home because there is nowhere for people to sit. They may get into arguments with well-meaning family members who want to help them clear out the clutter and, as a result, stop talking to them.
Hoarding disorder can be treated
Most hoarders don’t seek help until they come under pressure from family, a landlord or the city council. The most effect treatment for hoarding disorder is a focused type of cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT teaches hoarders how to lower their stress and anxiety and diminish their exaggerated need to save possessions. During therapy they gradually begin to let go of unnecessary items. CBT also teaches decision-making and organizational skills so that new items are only acquired when there is space for them.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18616610 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3707873/ http://www.markchidley.com/184