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Helping a Person with Hoarding Disorder

     

Many people are familiar with the problem of hoarding partly because of several television shows featuring the issue. So you may recognize when someone is showing signs of hoarding, but what can you do? How can you approach your friend or family member?

Hoarding can be particularly difficult and distressing for family and friends. People with hoarding disorder excessively save items that others may view as worthless. They have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces. Hoarding is not the same as collecting or just living with clutter. Hoarding disorder causes problems functioning and significant distress.

People who hoard may not recognize that they have a problem and often do not seek or want any help. Even if they do recognize the problem they may or may not be willing to change behavior.

How You Can Help

Randy Frost, Ph.D., professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. and co-author of “Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding,” suggests the goal is to educate the loved one about hoarding behavior as a problem and to try to reduce the associated risks. He summarizes:

  • The worst thing to do is to volunteer to go in and throw things away for them or to go in and throw things away when they are not around.
  • The best approach is to sit down and talk with the person about the problem in a calm and reasonable way.

Some additional suggestions for approaching a person who is hoarding:

  • Don’t use judgmental language about the individual or in reference to his/her possessions. Items that you may see as trash or junk, a person who is hoarding may see very differently.
  • Don’t try to argue with or persuade the person. He or she is likely to get more defensive and argumentative.
  • Focus initially on safety and organization; work on discarding later.
  • Show empathy. You don’t need to agree with the person, but it’s helpful to listen and try to see things from their perspective.

Community Resources: Hoarding Task Forces

You may be able to get help from a local task force. Because the problems and potential impacts of hoarding are broad, many communities have set up task forces to address the issue. These task forces typically involved officials from many different local agencies, such as housing, social services, public safety (etc. fire, police, animal control), mental health, code compliance, and public works.

In Boston, the Metropolitan Boston Housing partnership has a successful hoarding program that includes training on appropriate interventions for a variety of community stakeholders. Staff members use a combination of harm reduction strategies and tools from cognitive behavior therapy. They meet weekly or bi-weekly with clients to help them sort and de-clutter and to teach them skills that will help them remain in their homes.

See more on hoarding disorder, including an Expert Q&A with Randy Frost, Ph.D. and Carolyn Rodriquez, M.D., Ph.D.

References

  • Bratiotis C. 2013. Community hoarding task forces: a comparative case study of five task forces in the United States. Health Soc Care Community, 21(3):245-53.
  • Hoarding. Randy Frost: The Way to Help a Family Member. (video)
  • Sorrentino, CM. How to Talk to Someone with Hoarding; Do’s and Don’ts. Boston University School of Social Work.
  • Tolin DF. 2007. When a Loved One Hoards. (blog)

     

Patients and FamiliesHoarding DisorderOCD

 

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