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4 Seniors: How to help an aging parent with hoarding

OKLAHOMA CITY – Clutter addiction is a problem that affects up to five percent of Americans, many of whom are older adults. The problems can range anywhere from moderate messiness to hoarding so severe it may be related to a mental health disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder. If your parent is showing this kind of behavior, here are some tips and resources that may help.

Here are some tips from Savvy Senior Editor Jim Miller.

Why do people hoard?

The reasons most people hoard is because they have an extreme sentimental attachment to their possessions, or they believe they might need their items at a later date. Hoarding can also be a sign that an older person is depressed or showing early symptoms of dementia.

Common problems for seniors who live in excessive clutter are tripping, falling and breaking a bone; overlooking bills and missing medications that are hidden in the clutter; and suffering from the environmental effects of mold, mildew and dust, and even living among insects and rodents.

What to do

The first thing you need to do is to get a handle on your parent’s clutter problem. The Institute for Challenging Disorganization offers a free “Clutter Hoarding Scale” that you can download off their website at ChallengingDisorganization.org to help you identify the scope of the problem.

If you find that your parent has a moderate cluttering problem, there are a number of things you can do to help.

Start by having a talk with them, expressing your concern for their health and safety, and offering your assistance to help them declutter.

If they take you up on it, most professional organizers recommend decluttering in small steps. Take one room at a time or even a portion of a room at a time. This will help prevent your parent from getting overwhelmed.

Before you start, designate three piles or boxes for your parent’s stuff – one pile is for items they want to keep and put away, another is the donate pile and the last is the throwaway pile.

You and your parent will need to determine which pile her things belong in as you work. If your parent struggles with sentimental items that they don’t use, like her husband’s old tools or mother’s china for example, suggest she keep only one item for memory sake and donate the rest to family members who will use them.

Where to find help

If you need some help with the decluttering and organizing, consider hiring a professional organizer who can come to your parent’s home to help you prioritize, organize and remove the clutter. The nonprofit group National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals has a directory on the website at NAPO.net to help you locate a professional in your area.

If your parent has a bigger, more serious hoarding problem (if their daily functioning is impaired, or if they are having financial difficulties, health problems, or other issues because of their hoarding) you’ll need to seek professional help. Antidepressants and/or talk therapy can help address control issues, anxiety, depression, and other feelings that may underline hoarding tendencies, and make it easier for them to confront their disorder.

To learn more and find professional help see the International OCD Foundation which provides a hoarding center on their website (Hoarding.iocdf.org) that offers information, resources, treatments, self-help groups, and more. Also see HoardingCleanup.com, a site that has a national database of qualified resources including cleaning companies and therapists that can help.

Click here to view Jim Miller’s website.

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