Research has indicated that hoarding, a relatively common disorder among the elder community, gets progressively worse as a person gets older. Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco conducted a study that discovered that a whopping fifteen percent of depression-stricken older adults engaged in extreme hoarding. This number can be compared to the two to five percent of older adults without depression that engage in these extreme hoarding behaviors.
The Hoarding / Depression Connection
As they age, many elders face a dramatic decline in the quality and frequency of their social interactions. This often leaves an elder feeling lonely and separated from the outside world. As a consequence, they may begin to engage in behaviors that help them handle feelings of isolation and depression. These behaviors often revolve around the collection of everything from screws to living, breathing animals.
Hoarding and depression are similar in that they are what the researchers at UCSF refer to as "frontally mediated." This essentially means that both disorders impact the brain in the frontal lobe area. The frontal lobes are responsible for such things as organizing and arranging.
The Dos and Don'ts of Treating Hoarding Behavior
With regards to the treatment of hoarding behavior, the Boston University School of Social Work has conducted some illuminating research on how to combat the aforementioned cognitive make-up of hoarders.
The subjects of this research were 26 people, between 60 and 90 years of age, who were engaging in classic hoarding behavior. For treatment, the hoarders were assigned to social workers who endeavored to gain their trust and work with them on establishing proper sorting skills. Trust proved to be the linchpin in effective treatment of hoarding behavior. Once an elder trusted their social worker, they were more receptive to any behavioral changes proposed by the social worker.
The trust component is one major reason why a plan to enter the house or apartment of an elder who hoards and rid them of all of the extra stuff is ineffective. Even as a family member or a close friend of the elder you will find that most hoarders respond to this act with hostility and deep mistrust. The social workers in the Boston University study understood this correlation and tried to ensure that the elder felt in control of the cleaning and organization processes.
By the end of the study, the elderly hoarders were able to handle alterations to their home environments without experiencing extreme amounts of distress.