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My wife and I are taking care of her elderly parents who live in an independent living apartment about 10 minutes away. They're pretty self sufficient but we're starting to notice a tendency to hoard, buying things they see on television, collecting junk mail, and other things in multitudes. Their apartment is so cluttered you can hardly walk through it and there's nowhere to sit. This concerns us alot and when we say something about it, we're quickly dismissed. There's a clear attachment to every single thing in the apartment. We're at a loss. The apartment was so cute and tidy when we first moved them in and it has progressively turned into a mess. They see no problem with the way they're living and are resistant to donating or throwing anything away, even junk mail. Not sure if we're looking at the onset of dementia or just old age tendencies, but the possession of "things" is getting out of hand. Nothing is in a logical place in this tiny one bedroom apartment. Just not sure what we can or should do. They have a cleaning service, so there's no filth, but it's impossible to clean effectively when the surfaces are all covered. Also worry about them tripping and falling. Would love some advice.

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I believe that my husband has not thrown away anything since the day he was born! I have found receipts and correspondence from the 1990's. I wait until he's out of the room, grab a bunch of papers, or a file and take them to my office. I quickly thumb through them and toss 99% of them into a garbage bag. When it's full, I tie it off and toss it into the garbage. He never misses them. The drawback to this is that it's a slow process, but relieves some of my stress at the clutter.
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My husband suffers from dementia, OCD and hoarding. It is important to remember that "things" represent a form of security to them. Something that doesn't make sense to us is so very important to them. They also develop strong emotional attachments to "things".

It didn't do any good to just get rid of things while my husband was away at work. He noticed the missing items immediate and then went into discomfort. He was hard to live with after I got rid of the old, oil soaked wooden shelves in our garage. I told him we would get new wood for new shelves, etc. Nothing consoled him.

Even now with dementia, I switched his truck key for a look-alike key and he noticed right away. He became inconsolable for days as he looked for the missing key. He couldn't rest. He paced endlessly.

This scenario repeated itself as he lost other things. He cannot rest until he has his "important" things. I don't know of any answer. I tried to reason with him and help him understand hoarding. No luck. I tried substituting "security" items. No luck.

The best help was Fluvoxamine that a psychiatrist prescribed. His hoarding subsided. To date, he only hoards 7 chapsticks, 5 metal flashlights, 12 handkerchiefs, 4 nail clippers, candy, 3 packages of cough drops in his shirt and pants pockets. I weighed the contents of his pockets and it weighs 8 lbs!

But do seek professional /psychiatric help for this little understood disorder. And read up on it. It sure helps to understand it. Your frustration level goes down just a bit. The very best to you and your loved ones.
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I don't know if this would work or not. Tell your parent(s) that the church or hospital is have a rummage sale [find some place that is holding one of these].... that the church/hospital needs wonderful things to donate, such as quality clothes, games, fake flowers, etc.

Knock on wood, my parents haven't started hoarding, but I still try to get my parents to downsize some of their stuff. All I can say when it comes to donations, with my Mom it is one knick knack per year :)
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I honestly don't know if you call it hoarding, but so much of what I'm reading here is familiar and very helpful, so thank you all. My in-laws keep styrofoam cups (cleaned after using), a drawer full of straws, twist ties, packets of sugar and salad dressings,and all of that kind of useless, but must have stuff. They also have three canes, three walkers, a motorized scooter in the middle of the floor, miracle cream for reducing wrinkles (lots of $30 tv miracle cream), bottles of medicine all over the apartment, not tucked away in one cabinet or drawer. There are clothes in the closet that haven't been worn since the 80's before my MIL retired, but she won't part with them. This is just the beginning. They live in a one bedroom apartment that we furnished beautifully for them. It's small, but perfect for them. They have a dining table with 4 chairs that you can't sit at because it's covered with useless junk. There's a nice leather recliner which he uses and an apartment sized couch, which only has one useful cushion now because the other cushion is covered with old newspapers. They insisted on buying a desk for a computer that doesn't work and a copier/fax machine that they never use. They don't even know how to use a computer. We bought it for them years ago, which was mistake #1. Add a television and multiple hearing assistance devices for the television and there's literally a 3X4 space in the floor for a person to sit, in addition to the desk chair. There are at least three telephones hooked up with cords running behind all of the furniture. Stuffed animals all over the bedroom. Why do people in their 80's need stuffed animals? When we moved them in, we brought one for them. Several months later, all of the others that were supposed to go in the estate sale, appeared in the apartment, in addition to boxes of other things that were meant for auction. Such as a bag of tile grout that they will never again need. We bought them a 4 foot tall artificial christmas tree to replace the 7.5 ft one that would not fit. We brought all of their decorations from home. Last week as I sit in the floor on our visit, my MIL said she'd like to have her 7.5 ft Christmas tree. I was in disbelief. Short of hoisting it up on a hook on the ceiling, where the heck did she think it was going to go? It's this kind of thing that I just don't know what to do with. I feel like every time we visit, we fuss, and all of our concerns fall on deaf ears. They aren't in any danger, and the apartment isn't dirty, but there are tripping hazards, and aside from all of that I'm just concerned about what it will look like in another month. My mother in law has always been so tidy and well put together and she just doesn't see the problem. Visiting is just not enjoyable anymore, and my father in law is an angry, angry old, possessive man...yet a topic for another post, I suppose. Thank you all for sharing your stories and ideas, we really do appreciate it.
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When it becomes a fire hazard or a public issue, the health department &, or the independent living association will evict them. You might gently face them with these possibilities, and then offer to help them clean up,
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With my mom, it's the creamers and plastic silverware they give her when they bring her lunch. I created a drawer in the fridge for it all and we (reduce) our inventory sometimes. Together we go through it and eventually I realized if the bin is full, she's happy so I "rotate the stock". (Throw out the oldest for the newest....) It's working but eventually I am afraid I will never be able to throw out unused plastic silverware and wet naps either! CRAZY...........
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hoarding must be a mental issue because it is sooooo horrrible!!! The mess and the filth that hoarders live in is horrendous!!
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There's a difference between keeping things and hoarding. One keeps things because they like them or don't know wh a t to do with them or they get lazy so they will think about it later. Hoarders need all their stuff. My mother is a hoarder. Before i brought her to my home she collected everything. She would have 20 clean empty tin cans in the closet, 25 clean yogurt containers, 12 meat trays all thi gs she needed. When asked what for she'd come up with a reason to use one, when i asked why do you need so many she would get mad. When i went And cleaned out things like years worth of the cotton balls they used to put in medicine bottles she nearly had a break down. It's a mental disorder. Now she is in , my home with only one room but she still collects things they're just smaller things like the twist ties from the bread bag, pencils and pens, tape, napkins, all things she needs. When the clutter gets too much we try to cut back with her making the decision that perhaps 10 twist ties are enough instead of 30. It's very difficult and if you let it get out of hand it is dangerous. With so much stuff they can fall or if so much is stacked up it can fall on them. Just know you need a lot of patience if it's really hoarding.
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They WILL trip and fall. They need help. Go with a social worker, for starters.
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Hoarding is commonly known as OCD, which is a form of mental illness.
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I wish I could take a picture of my dad's coffee table. He has got post it notes, bills and let's not forget about all the little Reader's Digest tickets that he needs when they knock on his door with the balloons. He just told me this morning that he got a letter with another ticket that says he is DEFINITELY in the final drawing for money each mo. for life. I used to talk myself silly trying to tell him he's not going to win (yes, I know someONE does) but I've given that fight up. He doesn't have dementia, 93 and doing "pretty" well. I was going to post almost word for word the same thing that freqflyer did. When I cleaned out my great aunts apt. years ago I was appalled at the things that were in her closet, kitchen and pantry in a one bedroom apt. I've never seen that many tubes of toothpaste, bars of soap, or pantyhose! Depression Era alright. Not hoarding. With my dad and deceased FIL, they just can't/couldn't process as quickly as they once could. Heck, I've slowed down myself. :) My FIL used to tell us he was busier in his 80's than he was when he worked. I can see why he said that. His coffee table and dining room table were full of papers he just didn't know what to do with. He was overwhelmed. My husband FINALLY let us take over all the mail/bills. We would do it there with him though so he could at least open it up, see it, then hand it over or throw it away when we told him it was junk. It seemed to make him feel a lot better rather than us taking everything. As for Hokiegirls, I don't know the parents, can't diagnose them because I'm not a doctor obviously but I just don't think hoarding is the problem. I just think it's the depression era thing going on and loving the chase of the next box coming. I do like the idea of having the mgt. coming in as just a "looksee" on the fire alarm. My dad's cleaning lady told him that she couldn't clean the coffee table or top of his dresser with all the paper on it. They might start doing the same thing with your inlaws. Just a thought on this.....could you tell them that you could box some things up for them and store them until they needed them? Anyway, good luck and God Bless.
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First and foremost I would check their medicine cabinet or where ever they keep them. Toss out all the expired medications. I had to do this with my Mom. Little by little, she never noticed. Good Luck
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What you may try is when you have a moment when they're not looking to grab a handful of junk mail and old newspapers, and quickly rush them to your car trunk, (assuming you have a car). You can also do this with any other junk. Another thing to consider is getting your loved ones out of the house and taking them somewhere as previously mentioned. They may throw a fit, but you must stand your ground, even if you must involve the Fire Chief. Hoarding is actually a fire hazard. Another thing you may consider is going for guardianship. Being a guardian means that you have a say over everything regarding the person/s you have guardianship over.
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Have a nice conversation while you casually start dumping stuff. Diversion!!! If you get a bad reaction, get them out and occupied and go in and dump. Been there, so been there.
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rakshita....great answer! sometimes i forget that as my parents get older, and I take over...of course they must be resentful of losing their lives! ugh...
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my brother is 62 yrs old...his room is a rats nest, and little stacks of paper every where. he never cleans his room. it's horrible!!! he is a gambler and has worked very little in his life...I think it's mental illness. if you saw him you would never know it...because he runs daily and eats really healthy...looks very young for his age????
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What I did was throw away junk that was laying around. My father was apparently not able to distinguish between stuff he needed and scraps of paper and such. And it was piling up rapidly. He was buying tons of stuff from Bradford Exchange and they encouraged him to keep buying stuff no matter how many times I called and told them he had dementia. He would buy 2 and 3 of the same item. When the stuff was piled up to the ceiling in 2 rooms, I started sending some back. It might be difficult if you don't have poa,but if you reach the right person, someone will help you.They won't notice what is gone, and they'll forget about it.
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I'm thinking control might be involved here. Yesterday I was having the windows cleaned in our sunroom where DH sits in his easy chair to watch TV. I asked if he'd mind if I cleared off and moved his chairside table to the center of the room while the work was being done. This usually super sweet guy (82, stroke recovery) got really mean about my clearing off the used napkins and placemats. When I sat to talk to him about it, I saw her was getting teary about his space. My daughter later said there's so little he has control over, he's highly attached to his spaces, like his favorite easy chair and bedside space. That helped me understand the emotion and sadness behind his stuff. He's given up 95% of what he used to control. Same thing about our 2 houses -- when I mention downsizing because of my workload, he gets loud and teary, asking me to wait until after he dies. I just hope I last that long.
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Get a psychologist who specializes in hoarding to do an evaluation. It sounds like they do have a problem and you are right to show concern. Get them some help before they spend all their money.
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We are going thru this right now with my in-laws (late 70s). Took us YEARS to get them to agree to help. And that is probably because the help was offered with certain rooms, one at a time, and only with visible items. My sons joked about blocking QVC and HSN sites. Never thought about the eye sight challenge they may be experiencing in addition to stamina challenge. Sometimes I forget to view things from their perspective, instead seeing it from my own. Thanks for the insight.
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I agree with Marci. I did this with my Mom and MIL but I will say that with my Mom it hadn't gotten as bad as Hokie described and neither Mom nor MIL did shopping on TV. Still, the junk mail accumulated and in my MIL's case, so did clothing items that no longer could be used. And when they went into the bathroom, I would ditch items in the frig that had become science experiments. My Mom was more accepting but mIL would object . . . if she saw me! So I'd dump and put the bag outside her apt. I'd take it with me when I left! Get everyone who visits on board. If receipts are with the TV shopping items, they can be returned. Some of these steps are the beginning of dementia --- an inability to focus and discern what should be kept or not. The hoarding goes along with the depression era mentality. When my MIL was moved to Assisted Liv, we filled 24 contractor garbage bags ... all of this in a one bedroom apt. Clothing was ripped, stained (blood and urine) and so many items that were broken or unusable. I'd urge you to try to get ahead of the game.
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These are all great ideas! One more thought on tackling the "junk paper" hoarding; can you work with another family member as a tag team? Get another person to take them down to a common area for a treat (ice cream?). You can fill a garbage bag with the paper hoard. Put it in your car. I'm sure one bag won't take care of it all, but it lessened the pile. When they return have some coffe or tea waiting so all of you visit a few more minutes. If you do this every other week or so, it might help. They may notice and have a cow, but keeping lots of papers is not good either. Modify this idea if need be. Good luck!
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FF has good insights into this situation, especially the "Christmas Day" opening of packages through the mail. Depression Era mentality is certainly an issue as well.

In fact, FF, you've given me an idea. Instead of just bringing in the groceries, I'll wrap the nonperishable ones so it can be a celebration created from an ordinary circumstance.


I share your concerns; I'm battling the same issue myself and haven't as yet figured out successful ways to address it.

I'm thinking of using the bribery system - "if we clean up the pile of junk solicitations, I'll take you to the Dairy Queen" philosophy might work - at least I hope so.

What has worked in sitting down together, listening to favorite music, and my going through the junk mail, removing any ID markers, and recycling it. It seems to be easier if someone if there to help the elder make decisions, somewhat forcefully but gently.

But the issue of tools and man cave stuff is a different story; that stuff is sacred.

But there's another factor at play, and that is the "I can do it myself" belief. I don't think they want to admit that there's a problem for which they need help.
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Sounds like a throw back to the Great Depression where one kept things to use for a later time. I have that issue with my Dad with his collection of newspaper articles.

I have asked my Dad about his newspaper article collection, to which my Mom is trying to get him to clear away, and Dad's stock answer is usually "I don't have time to do this". Dad is 93, it's not like he is out being Superman, or standing in the middle of Wall Street doing buys/sells. Most of the day he and Mom are napping.

As our parents age it just takes them twice as long to get things done. As for the mail, usually eyesight is the issue and they put aside the mail for a clearer day. Buying stuff off of TV is their recreation, it's fun and in a couple of days a box arrives, it's like Christmas morning opening up the box.

I am surprised the cleaning service even goes into the apartment, but I assume the kitchen and bathroom are walkable, thus can be cleaned.

No matter what you say, you are the "kid", and what do you know :P Maybe the apartment management office could help, they could say they are doing a safely check of the smoke alarms, etc. And if management believes the apartment has become a fire hazard or too much weight from all the "things", then that way it's someone other than a relative telling your parents to clean up.
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