How To Help A Hoarder Parent? Steps To Take Right Now
Hoarding can become a serious issue when it starts interfering with your parent's daily activities, relationships, and safety.
As a child, watching your parent suffer from hoarding disorder can be an emotional and stressful experience. It can disrupt your family dynamics and cause you to feel helpless and frustrated. The good news is that there are ways to help your hoarder parent manage their condition.
This blog post will look at hoarding, a disorder characterized by persistent difficulty in discarding or parting with possessions caused by a perceived need to save them, regardless of their actual value.
We will delve into the signs and symptoms of hoarding, its causes, and its negative impact on your parent’s life and those around them. We will also discuss treatment options and practical ways to help manage your parent’s hoarding behavior.
Hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition that goes beyond just being messy or disorganized. Hoarding can lead to unsafe living conditions for your parent, social isolation, and even eviction.
Genetics, life experiences, & traumatic events can contribute to a hoarding disorder. People who grew up impoverished or who experienced significant loss may be at a higher risk of developing a hoarding disorder.
If your parent is a hoarder, seeking professional help from a therapist or professional organizer can address underlying psychological or emotional factors contributing to the hoarding.
What is Hoarding Disorder?
As the child of a hoarder, you probably want to know more about what hoarding disorder is.
Hoarding disorder is not the same as being messy or disorganized. It is a complex mental health condition that sometimes requires professional help to manage.
People with hoarding disorder often struggle with decision-making, problem-solving, and organization.
They may have trouble deciding what to keep and what to throw away, even for items with little or no apparent value. They may experience a sense of attachment or emotional significance to certain objects, making it hard to let them go.
Hoarders may have difficulty organizing or decluttering their possessions, leading to disorganization in their living spaces. They may become overwhelmed by the task, feel anxious, or lack the skills to tackle the job effectively.
What Are the Consequences of Hoarding?
People with a hoarding disorder may find sorting and storing their items challenging. This becomes a big problem when your parent has to spend excessive amounts of time digging through their clutter and can’t find what they need when they need it.
Accumulated clutter and stacks of papers or other combustible materials can increase the risk of fire in your parent's home. Hoarders may also be more likely to use unsafe heating or cooking methods if items are stashed on top of stovetops, which can lead to fires.
This is counteractive because hoarding can also block exits and obstruct pathways in your parent's home, impeding emergency responders' access in the case of a fire or other emergency.
Vermin and Pests
Hoarding can attract vermin and pests, such as rats or insects, which can carry diseases and create unsanitary living conditions. Here are a few examples of diseases that can be transmitted by vermin and pests in a hoarder’s home:
Hantavirus: Hantavirus is carried by deer mice. It’s transmitted to humans through infected droppings, urine, or saliva. It can cause fatal respiratory illness in some cases.
Salmonellosis: Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection transmitted by rodents, such as rats and mice, and by contaminated food and water. It causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.
Lyme disease: Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks, which then go on to infect mice and other small rodents. It causes fever, fatigue, and skin rashes.
Asthma and allergies: Vermin and pests can also trigger asthma and allergies in some hoarders, particularly those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
Encourage your parent to prevent infestations of vermin and pests in their home by storing food securely, sealing up any holes or cracks, and keeping the house clean and clutter-free.
If your parent’s house is infested, hire professional help to reduce disease transmission risk.
A professional pest control company can use baits, traps, or insecticides to control the infestation in your parent’s house. Hiring a professional also means you won’t have to clean up any droppings, nests, or other debris left behind by mice or rodents.
Neglect of Home Maintenance
Hoarding can also lead to neglect of home maintenance tasks, such as cleaning or repairs, contributing to unsafe living conditions.
Water damage, mold growth, or structural damage can occur due to neglect of necessary repairs and daily cleaning tasks or because of the weight of the accumulated clutter.
A leaky roof or pipes that go unrepaired can cause water to seep deeply into walls, floors, and ceilings. Over time, the excess moisture in the home can damage the home's structure and drive the growth of mold and mildew.
Additionally, neglecting cleaning tasks, such as not wiping down surfaces or properly ventilating bathrooms and kitchens, can create an environment conducive to mold growth.
This leads to wheezing, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin rashes. These symptoms are especially dangerous for people with pre-existing respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
In rare cases, people who are immunocompromised (such as those with HIV/AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy) can get severe infections from mold exposure.
These factors can all lead to social isolation, as hoarders may feel too ashamed or embarrassed to invite people into their homes.
They may also avoid or be unable to leave home due to cluttered living conditions, further contributing to isolation and loneliness. In severe circumstances, your parent’s hoarding disorder can lead to eviction, homelessness, or even death.
If your parent is a hoarder, you might want to get help from an expert to reduce safety hazards in their home.
Consider working with a therapist or professional organizer to address underlying psychological or emotional factors contributing to your parent's hoarding behavior. Be ready to assist if your parent needs help to declutter and organize their living space.
What is Causing My Parents’ Hoarding?
While the exact causes of hoarding are still a mystery, research has identified genetics, life experiences, and traumatic events as risk factors that can contribute to the disorder’s development.
Studies have shown that genetics can play a role in hoarding disorder, as the condition often runs in families. People with a family history of hoarding are more likely to develop the disorder themselves.
Life experiences, such as poverty or trauma, can also contribute to hoarding disorder. For example, people who grew up impoverished or who experienced a significant loss may feel a sense of scarcity or fear of losing things, leading them to hoard items they perceive as valuable.
Traumatic events that are difficult to process, such as the death of a loved one or a natural disaster, can trigger hoarding behavior in some people. The trauma may cause them to attach emotional significance to certain items, making it difficult to let them go.
Hoarding disorder is also associated with anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These conditions exacerbate hoarding behavior, as people may use hoarding as a coping mechanism to manage their symptoms.
Studies have also shown that differences in brain function may contribute to hoarding disorder. Some research suggests that hoarding behavior may be related to abnormalities in some areas of the brain that regulate decision-making, emotion, and impulse control.
How Can I Approach My Parent About their Hoarding?
When you have a hoarding parent, the best approach to the situation is to use empathy and understanding.
Start by having an open and honest conversation with your parent about their hoarding disorder.
Choose a time to have the conversation when your parent is calm, relaxed, and not feeling overwhelmed.
Make sure you have enough time for the discussion and are in a private setting where you can speak openly without distractions. Let your parent know that you want to support them and help them find a way to manage their hoarding behavior.
Be mindful not to criticize, judge, or pressure your parent into cleaning up their mess. The pressure can cause them to become defensive and make it harder for them to open up about their hoarding behavior.
Instead, focus on expressing your concerns for their safety and well-being and offer to help find a solution.
Listen actively to your parent's perspectives and feelings about their hoarding disorder.
Validate their emotions and let them know that you sympathize with their struggle. Active listening can help build trust between you and your parent and create a safe space for further open and honest conversation.
Offer to support your parent by helping them find a therapist or professional organizer to help them manage their hoarding behavior. Tell your parent you are there for them and want to support them in any way you can.
Although starting a conversation about hoarding disorder with your parents can be challenging, approaching the conversation with empathy, support, and active listening can help them find a path toward managing their behavior.
Does My Parent Need Professional Help for Hoarding?
Helping your parent manage their hoarding disorder might require a team.
Encourage your parent to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor experienced in treating hoarding disorder. A mental health professional can give your parent a safe space to talk about their thoughts and feelings and develop an action plan for decluttering.
A mental health professional may use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help your parent change their thoughts and behaviors surrounding hoarding. CBT can help them identify negative thoughts and behaviors contributing to their hoarding and teach them new, healthy ways to think and act.
Along with CBT, a mental health professional may also recommend medication for your parent to help manage any underlying anxiety or depression contributing to the hoarding disorder.
Some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been found to be effective in reducing hoarding disorder symptoms in some people. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may also be prescribed to help alleviate your parent’s symptoms and improve overall mental health.
A mental health professional can also help your parent create an action plan for decluttering. This plan may involve setting small, achievable goals, working on one room or area at a time, and enlisting the help of a cleaning service.
By working with a mental health professional, your parent can get some clarity and insight into their disorder, develop coping strategies, and make positive changes to improve their quality of life.
Creating A Safe And Supportive Environment
Hoarding can create a dangerous living environment for seniors.
Remove tripping hazards such as loose rugs, piles of clothes, or electrical cords if you are concerned about your parent's safety.
Consider installing a medical alert system, especially if your parent lives alone and is at risk of falling or experiencing a medical emergency. A medical alert system allows your parent to call for help quickly and easily in an emergency.
These are just a few of the many different types of medical alert systems available, but you should do your own independent research and find an option that meets your parent's specific needs:
In-home systems: In-home systems are designed for your parents to use when they are inside their home and use a landline or cellular connection to contact a monitoring center. They often come with a wearable device worn as a necklace, bracelet, or belt.
Mobile systems: Mobile systems use cellular technology and are designed for use outside the home. They typically come with a wearable device with GPS tracking capabilities so that the monitoring center can locate the user in an emergency.
Fall detection systems: Fall detection systems use sensors to detect when your parent falls and automatically send an alert to the monitoring center.
Smartwatch systems: Some smartwatches now come with built-in medical alert features that let your parent contact emergency services with the press of a button.
Voice-activated systems: Voice-activated medical alert systems use voice-activated technology to allow your parent to call for help without needing to press a button.
Medical Guardian offers a range of medical alert systems, including in-home and mobile options, fall detection, and GPS tracking. They also have a 24/7 monitoring center and pricing plans to fit different budgets.
Life Alert is known for its famous "I've fallen, and I can't get up" commercial and has been in business for over 30 years. They offer in-home and mobile medical alert systems with fall detection, GPS tracking, and two-way communication with their monitoring center.
Philips Lifeline offers in-home and mobile medical alert options with fall detection and GPS tracking. They also have a caregiver app to help family members stay connected. Medical Guardian
Be Mindful Of Your Own Mental Health
Watching a parent struggle with a hoarding disorder can be emotionally taxing, causing feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and guilt. It can be overwhelming to see your parent struggling with their disorder and its consequences on their health, safety, and quality of life.
It is normal to have these feelings, but it is also important to manage them properly and get support when you need it. Ignoring your own emotional needs can lead to burnout, depression, and other mental health problems.
One way to prioritize your mental health is to seek support from a therapist or support group for adult children of hoarders.
A therapist can provide a safe outlet for you to process your emotions and guide you on the best way to support your parent while still caring for yourself.
A support group can connect you with other caregivers going through similar experiences with their parents, providing you with a sense of community and validation.
Self-care, exercise, and meditation can help reduce your stress levels and keep you mentally healthy.
Remember that seeking help for your own emotional needs does not mean you are not a good caregiver or family member. You have to prioritize your own well-being to care for your parent with a hoarding disorder.
Set Realistic Expectations
Managing hoarding disorder is a complex long-term process, and progress can be slow. Set realistic expectations for your parent and celebrate small successes along the way.
Avoid putting pressure on your parent to clean up their clutter quickly. Trying to push your parent to clean up their mess or expecting a quick fix can lead to frustration and disappointment.
Instead, focus on creating a supportive and loving environment that encourages progress. Offer positive reinforcement for every small step your parent takes towards decluttering and maintaining a clean living space.
When your parent makes an effort to declutter or maintain a clean living space, acknowledge their efforts and thank them for it. Use positive language to express how proud you are of them for taking steps towards a cleaner and safer home.
Set achievable goals that are specific, measurable, and realistic. Celebrate small successes and progress towards those goals.
For example, if your parent agrees to clean out one room or area of the home, celebrate that achievement. The rewards don't have to be expensive or elaborate, but they should be meaningful and motivating. You could reward your parent with a favorite treat, like ice cream, or an activity, like bowling, after they successfully clean out a room or area of the home.
By creating a consistently supportive environment, setting realistic expectations, and celebrating small successes, you can help your parent work towards decluttering their living space and improving their quality of life.
How Can Trustworthy Help?
By taking steps to address both the emotional and practical aspects of hoarding disorder, you can help your parent lead a safer and more fulfilling life.
As you work with your parent towards progress, it's important also to consider practical solutions to keep their important legal documents safe.
Trustworthy is a secure and reliable platform that offers document storage and sharing options, making it a great option for hoarder parents who may struggle with organization and clutter.
Sign up for a free 14-day trial with Trustworthy today and make sure your parent doesn’t lose any of their legal documents in a cluttered home.