Hoarding Disorder: How to Help Loved Ones Let Go of Unneeded Items

(Rachel Seavey, Photographer)
A hoarder saves used and leftover bathroom supplies, including bags of diapers, preventing access to the toilet. Considered a risk factor, a code enforcement officer could be contacted to intervene.

    Hoarding is having a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of actual value. It can pose major health and safety issues for seniors and often becomes a serious concern for adult children of aging parents, according to Caitlin Sly, executive director at Meals on Wheels (MOW) Diablo Region.
    Referencing the Mayo Clinic, Sly said, “A hoarder is different from a collector. People who collect stamps or coins, for example, study what distinguishes the collected items and often display them. People who hoard, on the other hand, have difficulty discarding large numbers of random possessions because of a perceived need to save them.”
    In June, MOW Diablo Region hosted “Hoarding: How to Help Your Loved One.” The hour-long, interactive virtual presentation featured Abraham Aviles-Scott, License Marriage and Family Therapist, Older Adult Mental Health Specialist with Contra Costa Health Services; Rachel Seavey, professional organizer, coach and host of the Hoardganize podcast; and Renee Williams, Code Enforcement Officer with the City of Concord.
    Hoarding disorder can cause a variety of complications, including health risks. Williams said code enforcement comes into play when hoarding prevents safe ingress/egress or access to the bathroom and kitchen.
    Aviles-Scott explained Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one form of treatment for patients to gradually learn to discard items and improve organizational skills: “Hoarding is more common among individuals with a family member who also has a problem with hoarding.”
    MOW Diablo Region often receives calls from adult children who don’t know what to do to help their parents who are hoarding. Seavey offered a three-step plan.
    1) Set all judgment aside. 2) Try to understand that person’s world. What appears to be hoarding could, for instance, be ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. 3) Establish a safety plan. Seavey emphasized safety versus esthetics: “Just because a person has cobwebs or a stack of clothing or a lot of books, doesn’t mean they’re hoarders.”
    “Meals on Wheels Diablo Region works to keep seniors safe,” said Sly. “Our Fall Prevention Program identifies factors in the home which can result in a fall. Our Care Management Program helps deal with social issues seniors face, including hoarding.”
    For information regarding these programs, delivered meals, exercise classes and companionship programs, visit 

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