Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Seniors and Hoarding

It was my pleasure to speak this morning to seniors, social workers, nurses and caregivers who attended our 3rd installment of Waxter Wisdom, a series of discussions covering some of the most challenging financial, medical and emotional issues facing aging adults and people with disabilities.

Since the program launched in December, we've already held frank conversations on end of life planning and healthy sex. Today’s discussion was on a topic that we once assumed was a rarity, but actually plagues as much as five percent of Baltimoreans: hoarding.

Thanks to the popularity of the A&E reality television show, hoarding has become quite a hot topic. By now, many of us have seen how cleaning crews are called in because the shame and sheer weight of accumulated papers, books, clothes and even trash has overwhelmed the person living inside and they need to literally dig their way out.

Physical challenges, dementia or Alzheimer’s, and difficulty managing years of accumulated memories all place seniors at much greater risk for hoarding. As we become less mobile or able to manage daily household chores, stacks of papers, books or treasures can quickly form  a dangerous obstacle course around the home, creating fire hazards and limiting the family’s movements – as well as hindering emergency workers’ ability to get inside in a crisis.

But we cannot ignore one additional, very important risk factor that compounds each of these challenges: social isolation.

As we age and physical or mental challenges arise, it’s quite easy to become depressed and isolated, losing interest in leaving home or inviting friends and family into our lives. And research shows that people who live alone – who are either widowed or never married – are overrepresented amongst those who suffer from hoarding.

It’s easier for seniors who are isolated to hide the confusion and feeling overwhelmed by a growing hoard – it’s also much tougher for them to get help.

And so, today, I urge us all to check on an elderly neighbor or relative. If someone in your life needs help sorting through collections, organizing memories, or just managing daily tasks, the following resources might be useful:

Also, our new directory of health and wellness resources for older adults, caregivers and the disabled in Baltimore City and County includes information on local mental health professionals and other support.

Some of us might know someone – or even be someone – who struggles with clutter and has trouble throwing things away.

But through forums like Waxter, we can learn about important resources and support to help our friends and loved ones before cherished memories become a hazard.

Take Care, B’More.