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LETTER: The dangers of hoarding

IN recent years in my role as a councillor I have been contacted by local residents, church officials, and the fire brigade, in relation to concerns over residents who hoard, and as a result of which, are putting themselves, and others, at serious risk of harm. 

The people concerned have often been private reclusive types living alone, or those living in sheltered accommodation.

I admit to being a bit of a hoarder myself, but regular house moves prompt a good old clear out, and being confined to home as a result of Covid-19 has given me the opportunity to tidy up.

As outsiders, of course we have no right to intrude on how others lead their lives. The reason I raise this subject though is that the real danger of hoarding became all too real for me this week when the death of a dear friend from New York, who I had spoken to just a few weeks ago, made front page headlines.

This was the report on ABC News: ‘An 80-year-old woman is dead after flames tore through her apartment in the East Village early Friday morning on East 5th Street. The victim was found unconscious and badly burned inside a 7th floor apartment filled with clutter. Firefighters say the fire is not suspicious. Officials said the victim appeared to be hoarder and had a large amount of clutter in her apartment. Two firefighters sustained minor injuries battling the blaze. The woman’s cat was unaccounted for following the fire.’

What a terrible, terrible way to die.

Extreme clutter and unsafe and unsanitary conditions hamper the desire of retaining a level of independence for the hoarder and is not something that many family members, friends or carers can anticipate. It is a relatively common disorder among the elderly and gets progressively worse with age; as many as 6% of the population aged 55 or older fall victim to its perils.

As we get older, many of us face a dramatic decline in the quality and frequency of our social interactions. This often leaves people feeling lonely and separated from the outside world, leading to behaviour that helps them to cope with isolation and depression.

In some cases, this can revolve around accumulating ‘things’, everything from clothes and knickknacks to food, and even animals.

Up to 13% of older adults experiencing depression report severe compulsive hoarding. People with a hoarding disorder are also likely to experience other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcohol dependence and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Other risks include fire hazards, poor hygiene and nutrition, and poor sanitary conditions.

Where there are also age-related mobility issues, this increases the risk of trips and fall-related injuries. In extreme circumstances hoarding can result in eviction, especially for those in rented accommodation.

In addressing the treatment of hoarding, enabling the person to form a trusting relationship with a significant other, which may be a friend, relative or carer, or even a social worker, is crucial. To encourage them to de-clutter they need to feel in control so that they can better handle alterations to their home environment without experiencing extreme distress.

Linda Piggott-Vijeh 

Combe St. Nicholas 


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