November 13, 2011

OCD Leaves Hoarding Out

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Mental health professionals decide hoarding separate disease

(dailyRx News) The Emmy-nominated television series Hoarders fascinates America, taking a look into the lives of individuals incapable of parting with their possessions.

While the TV hit provides entertainment and amazement to its viewers, the real-life sufferers bring questions to the minds of health professionals. While hoarding was once considered to be a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), after recent review it is now classified as its own disorder with specific diagnosis criteria.

"Be patient; listen, engage, and support loved ones who hoard."

Compulsive hoarders accumulate a huge amount of objects in large quantities that often take over their homes, making it difficult to live a healthy lifestyle. Hoarders frequently stockpile paper materials such as stacks of paper, piles of magazines, news clippings, books, old mail, perhaps waiting on the day they come around to it. These habits extremely dangerous however, causing fire hazards and increased risk of injury.

According to Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, this disease is thought to result from problems in one or more areas of an individual's mental health, including information processing, beliefs about possessions, and emotional distress about discarding. Current treatments for compulsive hoarding include medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy.  

November's issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch brings encouraging words for concerned relatives and friends, hoping to help:

  • Listen to the hoarder and respect perspective and personal attachment. Criticism does not help.
  • Go slow and be patient. Change takes time. If the living situation is dangerous, direct your loved one to smaller quarters or a nursing facility.
  • Be supportive and provide structure. The hoarder obviously struggles with clutter and organization. Be there for the decluttering process.
  • Help an elderly hoarder. Lifting and moving may be difficult for the elderly.
  • Solicit outside resources. Many communities possess the resources and perhaps even task forces to address  psychological and legal housing issues.

However, Harvard Women's Health Watch urges readers to understand, "most hoarders need professional treatment." If you or a friend shows symptoms of hoarding, speak with a doctor on the best options for you.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
November 10, 2011

Last Updated:
November 13, 2011