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Home >> Solve a Problem >> Hoarding Behavior
 

Hoarding Fact Sheet
This Fact Sheet is Published through the Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, Older Adults Services Division. 

Hoarding is the excessive collection and retention of things or animals until they interfere with day-to-day functions such as home, health, family, work and social life. Severe hoarding causes safety and health hazards.

The collection of newspapers, magazines, old clothes and other items may cause fires while animal hoarding can spread contagious diseases. It is estimated that older adults represent a significant number of people who hoard. up arrow to top of page

Bullet Why do People Hoard?

The behavior of hoarding is seen in various illnesses. Because of that, it has been difficult to place in a diagnostic category. Time and/or age of onset are variable and the behavior differs from person to person. 

Frequently, older adults have been found to hoard for the following reasons:

bulletItems are perceived as valuable
bulletitems provide a source of security
bulletFear of forgetting or losing items
bulletConstant need to collect and keep things
bulletObtaining love not found from people
bulletFear others will obtain their personal information
bulletPhysical limitations and frailty
bulletInability to organize
bulletSelf neglect
bulletStressful life events up arrow to top of page

Bullet Intervention

Hoarding is recognized as both a mental health issue and a public health problem. It is typically not an immediate crisis. The hoarding behavior usually has been occurring for a long time and hasty interventions will not resolve it. in addition, interventions without the older adult's cooperation can lead to the development of dangerous behaviors. Careful assessment of the individual situation is essential for a successful outcome. 

Therefore, it is recommended that intervention be collaborative involving the older adult, family and other agencies, i.e. mental health, adult protective services, code enforcement, building & safety, animal control and criminal justice. up arrow to top of page

Bullet Tips

DO contact the older adult face-to-face

DO use a soft, gentle approach and let the older adult tell his/her story.

DO treat the older adult with respect and dignity.

DO respect the meaning and attachment to possessions by the older adult, which may be as intense as human attachment.

DO remain calm and factual, but caring and supportive.

DO evaluate for safety.

DO refer for medical and mental health evaluation.

DO go slowly and expect gradual changes.

DO reassure the older adult that others will try to help and work with him/her.

DO involve the older adult in seeking solutions.

DO work with other agencies to maximize resources. up arrow to top of page

DON'T hospitalize unless there is a clear plan for what this is to accomplish.

DON'T force interventions.

DON'T be critical or judgmental about the older adult's environment.

DON'T use the older adult's first name unless he/she gives permission.

DON'T press the older adult for information that appears to make him/her uncomfortable.

DON'T make negative, teasing or sarcastic comments.

DON'T talk about the older adult to others as if he/she is not present. up arrow to top of page

Bullet Vignette - Hasty Intervention

Negative results can occur when interventions are not carefully planned with a group of professionals with hoarding knowledge.

Mr. Y was an 82 year-old male widower living at a friend's house. Mr. Y began collecting and hoarding tools, parts and other equipment. The living space became so limited they slept on chairs. The family called the police for assistance. Eventually, several agencies were independently involved with the family. The lack of collaboration allowed the family to order dumpsters and discard the items. After his possessions were thrown away, Mr. Y was arrested because of the rage, anxiety, and delusions he developed. up arrow to top of page

Bullet Vignette - Planned Intervention

It is recommended that intervention be collaborative involving the older adult, family and other agencies.

Ms. X was a 96 year-old female with poor vision. She lived alone with dozens of cats, dogs and parrots. In addition, some dead cats were found in the freezer. The house was filthy and foul smelling. Ms. X had several pending citations with heavy fines, a house lien and faced possible jail time. A mental health assessment uncovered that Ms. X suffered from isolation, significant depression and moderate memory loss. After several weeks of building a relationship, a geriatric mental health professional, in coordination with the other agencies, developed an intervention plan. Ultimately, Ms. X received the support needed to feel safe enough to agree to have the house professionally cleaned and in keeping with laws and regulations, she kept 8 animals. up arrow to top of page

Bullet Resources

bullet

Department of Mental Health - ACCESS Center
(800) 854-7771
Information & referral to local mental health system of care, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

bullet

Adult Protective Services
(800) 992-1660
Investigation & crisis intervention for elder and dependent adult abuse including self-neglect, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

bullet

Infoline
(800) 339-6993; TDD (800) 660-4026
24-hour information & referral to human service agencies.

bullet

Self-Help and Recovery
(310) 305-8878
Referrals to hoarding and other self help support groups.
May be recorded messages. up arrow to top of page

Bullet Websites

bullet

Randy O. Frost - Hoarding researcher
from Smith College has a site that includes an extensive bibliography of hoarding articles.

bullet

The Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation
offers information and resources about obsessive compulsive disorder and hoarding.

bullet

The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium
at Tuft University.  up arrow to top of page

Bullet Recommended Readings

Damecour, L. & Charron, M.
"Hoarding: a Symptom, Not a Syndrome."
Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 1998

Frost, R. & Hartl, T.
"A Cognitive-Behavioral Model of Compulsive Hoarding."
Behavior Research and Therapy, 1996

Patronek, G.
"Hoarding of Animals: An Under-Recognized Public Health Problem in a Difficult-to-Study Population."
Public Health Reports, 1999

Thomas, D.
"Hoarding" Eccentricity or Pathology: When to intervene?"
Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 1998  up arrow to top of page

Bullet Questions & Comments

You may contact the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Older Adult Services Division at:
(213) 351-7284  up arrow to top of page

Bullet Reviewers

Norma D. Thomas, DSW, LSW, ACSW, President and Co-Director - Center on Ethnic & Minority Aging.

Jonnae Ostrom, LCSW - Orange County, California  up arrow to top of page

Bullet Acknowledgement

We would like to thank the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Older Adults System of Care Committee. It was through their continuous leadership and dedication this fact sheet was developed.
The Fact Sheet was first printed in May 2001. This page was last updated on July 28, 2004 .
up arrow to top of page

 

Inside This Page

bullet Why people hoard
bullet
Intervention
bullet
Tips - What to do ... 
  and what NOT to do
bullet
Hasty intervention
bullet
Planned intervention
bullet
Resources in Los Angeles
bullet
Websites
bullet
Recommended readings
bullet
Questions & comments
bullet
Reviewers
bullet
Acknowledgement

Useful Links

bullet Los Angeles County
  Dpt. of Mental Health
bullet 
GENESIS
bullet 
Adult Protective Services
bullet 
Health & Mental Health

Related Stories

bullet Bibliography of articles
  on hoarding by R. Frost
bullet The Obsessive-Compulsive
  Foundation Web site
bullet The Hoarding of Animals
   Research Consortium
  
at Tuft University
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This site was first published in April, 2001.

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