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The problem that piles up

Part 2: How to help a person who hoards

Do you know someone who may need help with hoarding? For ideas about how to bring up the topic, try the following tips.

Explain why you are concerned and focus on safety, not judgement on how the home looks. Here are some examples:

  • “I see you have items piled up by the stove and I am concerned your house will catch on fire."
  • “I’m concerned if you don’t clean up some of your pathways in the house, you won’t pass your housing inspection.”
  • “I had a difficult time walking through the living room and I almost fell. I am worried about this happening to you.”

You can be supportive without being intrusive and allow the individual to make decisions about the situation. For example:

  • “Tell me what you think about the concerns I have raised.”
  • “What are your thoughts about removing some of your belongings?”
  • “How can I help you feel safer and to deal with this issue?”
  • “What would you like to do now?”
  • “Let me know if you would like some resources to help you do some decluttering.”

It may take several conversations before the person agrees to work on the problem, so do not push your own agenda. It is important to be nonjudgmental.

Try not to start an argument. “If a person is not really motivated to do something about the problem, they can dig in their heels. Arguing can even make the problem worse,” warns hoarding disorder expert Dr. David F. Tolin of Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living. Do not offer unsolicited advice or tell the person what you think she or he should do.

There’s no effective medication for hoarding disorder, although studies are in progress. Tolin says, “Right now, cognitive behavioral therapy is the only evidence-based treatment we have for hoarding.” This is a type of talk therapy that teaches people how to change their thinking patterns and react differently to situations.

Tolin’s team hopes to improve cognitive behavioral therapy so that it’s even better at helping people to discard items. They’re analyzing the brain activities of people before and after they’re successfully treated for hoarding disorder. If the research team can identify the biological mechanisms of successful treatments, they may be able to develop treatments that are even better.

Some people with hoarding disorder are helped by joining a support group with others who have the disorder. There are also organizing professionals who specialize in helping people get rid of clutter. To find more resources for this and other mental health issues, click here.

Article adapted from the National Institutes of Health February 2018 News in Health, available online.

Click here to read Part 1.