Hoarding Fact Sheet

This Fact Sheet is Published through the Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, Older Adults Services Division. 

Hoarding is the excessive collection and retention of things or animals until they interfere with day-to-day functions such as home, health, family, work and social life. Severe hoarding causes safety and health hazards.

The collection of newspapers, magazines, old clothes and other items may cause fires while animal hoarding can spread contagious diseases. It is estimated that older adults represent a significant number of people who hoard.

Bullet Why do People Hoard?

The behavior of hoarding is seen in various illnesses. Because of that, it has been difficult to place in a diagnostic category. Time and/or age of onset are variable and the behavior differs from person to person.

Frequently, older adults have been found to hoard for the following reasons:

  • Items are perceived as valuable
  • items provide a source of security
  • Fear of forgetting or losing items
  • Constant need to collect and keep things
  • Obtaining love not found from people
  • Fear others will obtain their personal information
  • Physical limitations and frailty
  • Inability to organize
  • Self neglect
  • Stressful life events

Bullet Intervention

Hoarding is recognized as both a mental health issue and a public health problem. It is typically not an immediate crisis. The hoarding behavior usually has been occurring for a long time and hasty interventions will not resolve it. in addition, interventions without the older adult’s cooperation can lead to the development of dangerous behaviors. Careful assessment of the individual situation is essential for a successful outcome.

Therefore, it is recommended that intervention be collaborative involving the older adult, family and other agencies, i.e. mental health, adult protective services, code enforcement, building & safety, animal control and criminal justice.

Bullet Tips

DO contact the older adult face-to-face
DO use a soft, gentle approach and let the older adult tell his/her story.
DO treat the older adult with respect and dignity.
DO respect the meaning and attachment to possessions by the older adult, which may be as intense as human attachment.
DO remain calm and factual, but caring and supportive.
DO evaluate for safety.
DO refer for medical and mental health evaluation.
DO go slowly and expect gradual changes.
DO reassure the older adult that others will try to help and work with him/her.
DO involve the older adult in seeking solutions.
DO work with other agencies to maximize resources.
DON’T hospitalize unless there is a clear plan for what this is to accomplish.
DON’T force interventions.
DON’T be critical or judgmental about the older adult’s environment.
DON’T use the older adult’s first name unless he/she gives permission.
DON’T press the older adult for information that appears to make him/her uncomfortable.
DON’T make negative, teasing or sarcastic comments.
DON’T talk about the older adult to others as if he/she is not present.

Bullet Resources

  • Department of Mental Health – ACCESS Center
    (800) 854-7771
    Information & referral to local mental health system of care, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Adult Protective Services
    (800) 992-1660
    Investigation & crisis intervention for elder and dependent adult abuse including self-neglect, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Infoline
    (800) 339-6993; TDD (800) 660-4026
    24-hour information & referral to human service agencies.
  • Self-Help and Recovery
    (310) 305-8878
    Referrals to hoarding and other self help support groups.
    May be recorded messages.

Bullet Websites

  • The Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation
    offers information and resources about obsessive compulsive disorder and hoarding.

Bullet Recommended Readings

F.Neziroglu,J.Bubrick,J.Tobias                                                                 “Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding”                                                                          New Harbinger Publication, 2004

A well written and easy to understand book about the causes of Hoarding and treatments for Hoarding.

Damecour, L. & Charron, M.
“Hoarding: a Symptom, Not a Syndrome.”
Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 1998

Frost, R. & Hartl, T.
“A Cognitive-Behavioral Model of Compulsive Hoarding.”
Behavior Research and Therapy, 1996

Patronek, G.
“Hoarding of Animals: An Under-Recognized Public Health Problem in a Difficult-to-Study Population.”
Public Health Reports, 1999

Thomas, D.
“Hoarding” Eccentricity or Pathology: When to intervene?”
Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 1998

Bullet Questions & Comments

You may contact the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Older Adult Services Division at: (213) 351-7284

Published by

Dr. Gnap

Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago.  Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.  He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”

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