Friday, May 22, 2009

Task force forms to help seniors with hoarding

By Elizabeth Eddy, Gloucester Daily Times

A new task force on Cape Ann has formed to better respond to the strange but not uncommon phenomenon of "hoarding."

Comprised of members from the Gloucester Health Department, elder protective services, SeniorCare, fire and police departments, building department, Gloucester Housing Authority and the Board of Health, the task force also includes the city animal inspector, mental health therapists, and a professional organizer to ensure many disciplines are represented...

Hoarding is defined as the acquisition of, and the failure to use or discard, a large number of seemingly useless objects that cause significant clutter and impair basic living activities. Hoarding tends to run in families, so may have a genetic component or be a learned behavior. A subset of obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD, there are an estimated 700,000 to one million hoarders in the U.S.

"It is a mental illness and more common than most people think," Robinson said. "It impacts people's ability to function in their daily lives, and impacts their relationships with others."...

Hoarders may accumulate items which are perceived to have little or no value, such as bottle caps and newspapers, or even save trash such as hair clippings and cigarette butts. These persons may also feel they are being noble by "recycling" hopelessly broken appliances. Other hoarders compulsively acquire items through retail shopping, ebay, and the Home Shopping Network — the type of things that a hoarder obtains is less critical to their diagnosis than the extent of their acquiring or their difficulty discarding anything....

Despite the chaos and isolation that surrounds them, hoarders are surprisingly perfectionist, and want to do everything right, so become afraid of making mistakes and can't let anything go. Hoarding is usually not related to deprivation, although it is tied to trauma and loss. "This is somebody who strives for perfection so much that when it doesn't happen, they become immobilized. If it's not going to be perfect, they can't do it at all," she continued.

Hoarders may also acquire animals, often tragically. Even if the hoarder has good intentions, keeping animals they can't care for properly results in much suffering and filth. It is not uncommon for health officials to encounter 20 dogs or cats in an apartment without enough food or a place to relive themselves. "It's sad when animals are involved," Robinson said.

Hoarding is very stressful for human family members as well. Living space is often lost as possessions accumulate and health and comfort may suffer. For example, the family may eat take out food for dinner every night because there are piles of junk heaped on the counters and stove and no one can cook.

The effect of hoarding on children may be profound. Children may not feel comfortable bringing their friends home, and protective services are often called because the safety of home becomes questionable...  More