Hoarding is a growing concern among senior citizens in Australia. It is a disorder characterised by the excessive accumulation of possessions that interfere with normal living activities.
For many seniors, hoarding is a way of coping with the physical and emotional challenges that come with ageing. However, it can have serious consequences for their health, safety, and quality of life. Helping seniors from hoarding requires a comprehensive approach that involves education, counselling, and practical assistance to help them overcome this disorder.
What is hoarding disorder?
Compulsive hoarding disorder is defined as excessively amassing material possessions of every kind but finding them hard to go, leading to mental distress, in addition to finding the entire living space so unkempt. They also carry an inability to distinguish the value of the materials they acquire. Some mental health professionals and forensic cleaners suggest that hoarding may have been triggered by past incidents that left lasting trauma or depression, or issues related to ageing in place.
Hoarding was originally tagged as an outgrowth of OCD until the American Psychological Association properly outlined the condition and diagnoses in its DSM-5 document back in 2013. The document states that between two to six percent of the global population have mental conditions that meet the definitions stated in the file. A report from 2012 pointed at the possibility that as many as 1.2 million Australians exhibit signs of hoarding themselves.
Safety risks of hoarding
Aside from the risks to mental health, hoarding also carries a number of physical dangers.
- Fire hazards. Every residence will have a certain amount of flammable materials, which may be compounded with hoarding. All of Australia’s state and territorial fire response services have expressed strong concern at blazes over the years being triggered by hoarder junk, resulting in numerous fatalities.
- Higher odds of physical injury. A massive amount of items strewn about carries increased risk of physical injury due to lack of organisation. Virtually anything lethal to the body can happen.
- Unsanitary conditions. The lack of cleaning efforts in a hoarder’s property gives rise to lower immunity and strong risk of disease. For an instance, a malfunctioning bathroom can lead to the accumulation of body waste, which may attract insects.
- Emergency care restrictions. In the event of an emergency in a hoarder’s residence, heavy clutter actually hampers first responders from getting to the person for immediate extraction. At the same time, some hoarder piles even block other doorways.
Hoarding can be a detriment not just to the person, but the local community itself and may force the authorities to take action. Under the Health Act 1911, public officers are empowered to serve a residence a Clean and Repair Notice per Section 139 but might invoke Section 135 — declaring the house unfit for occupation if the property’s condition is irreversible. Additional notices may even be served in line with the Local Government Act 1995’s Section 3.25.
Eviction is often a last resort, especially if the property was to be let. In 2019, the Supreme Court of Australia shot down an Adelaide woman’s eviction appeal after the SA Civil and Administrative Tribunal served a cleanup notice on her SA Housing Trust property in Crafers in February 2018. A followup inspection in November 2018 revealed there was little progress in the cleanup, resulting in the eviction order being finalised. She lived in the property for 18 years.
While removal of the clutter is paramount when dealing with hoarders, some psychologists recommend exercising the utmost caution.
- Support. If a loved one acts to help out a hoarder, they need to consult a friend, support group or therapist to aid in the endeavour; reaching out to hoarders who have successfully reformed their lives may work. Take the time to talk to the hoarder about their situation and figure out a solution, such as gradual cleaning. Empathy will be at a premium in trying to understand the person’s mentality to hoard.
- Building trust. Hoarders are known to be distrusting of people who suddenly come in and want their clutter out. If you are related to the hoarder, regular meetings with them and gentle conversations may help cultivate the trust needed for treatment and cleaning to go forward. All actions must be overt, with clean intentions, and should not include discreet picking off of items.
- Small victories. In building up rapport with a hoarder towards a cleaning, you can encourage them to start with small projects such as being able to clear out the dining table and make it more presentable and safe for eating. As much as possible, they should be encouraged to make the first step in the cleanup.
- Medical evaluation. A consultation with a mental health professional will be essential to getting a full picture of the hoarder’s situation. Some people may recommend taking the hoarder out of the house for a casual trip to spend time together and visit the doctor, but reassure the hoarder that the property will not be disturbed.
The ASAG Reverse Mortgage
The ASAG Reverse Mortgage can be a vital tool to help an elderly loved one suffering from hoarding disorder. Your property’s equity may be put up for a reverse mortgage and finance a support fund to aid the elderly.
The fund may be used for purposes such as hiring home cleaners to gradually fix up the place, arranging for the resident to undergo behavioural therapy, or a comprehensive Aged Care programme, including a full medical checkup. Your preferred home care provider should have seasoned experience in treating hoarders.
If you’re interested in learning about the available equity release options, ASAG can be contacted through either a phone call at 1300 002 724 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moreover, our tool provided below can be utilised to evaluate your equity independently.