What You Should Know About Hoarding Part II
What Causes Hoarding?
Medical professionals point to various factors that can contribute to hoarding, including a difficulty processing information, beliefs regarding possessions, and the emotional distress associated with discarding possessions or items. A compulsive hoarder will view all items as having value, and often a highly exaggerated value. This can result in the hoarder believing, for example, that an old newspaper or tin of sardines has great importance and needs to be held onto with religious dedication. Even an old pile of rusted paperclips or notes can be seen as handy at some time because they are extensions of the hoarder – a part of his personality that cannot be removed.
When faced with the idea or need, according to a recommendation or direction from a counselor working with a cleanup team, to remove these small possessions and treasures, the compulsive hoarder can start to experience feelings of worry and anxiety. A compulsive hoarder can begin to feel embarrassed by their condition and its stigma, refusing to allow other individuals to view their growing clutter. This person often lacks an ability to socialize and, eventually, compulsive hoarding can result in complete isolation from friends, family, and overall society.
What Are The Personality Traits Of A Compulsive Hoarder?
Compulsive hoarders tend to have negative personality traits including anxiety, avoidance, perfectionism, poor socialization skills and high levels of indecisiveness. Studies have found that the activity levels in the brain of a compulsive hoarder differ from the non-hoarder in that the levels associated with decision-making, self-control, self-motivation, attention, visual processing, and selection are more difficult to focus. It is for this reason that medical professionals believe compulsive hoarding disorders may be considered a distinct variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
How Can A Person Recognize Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding?
Not all people experiencing obsessive compulsive hoarding will present with the following signs or symptoms affecting thoughts, behavior and/or emotions; however, hoarders showing several of these symptoms should have cause for concern:
- excessive attachment to possessions
- an inability to discard items
- extreme clutter throughout the person’s living area
- moving items or trash from one pile to another without discarding items
- stacking newspapers, magazines, and junk
- acquisition of useless items, such as trash
- problems with organization
- problems with procrastination
- trouble making decisions
- problems permitting people to move hoarded items or touch the items
- poor or reduced social skills
- problems managing daily tasks
What Are The Treatments For Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding?
Treatment for obsessive-compulsive hoarding can be a complicated matter. The condition is rooted in the personality characteristics of the individual as an inherent stubbornness to part with items they have come to view as extensions of their physical being. This individual tends to be highly resistant to change and will procrastinate or spend much time making decisions regarding the location of items only to leave the item where it was previously placed to deteriorate to the point where it is worthless to all people.
It is important to note that there is no “cure” for the condition known as obsessive-compulsive hoarding; however, there are ways to assist the hoarder in the transition to a more healthy means of living.
Research studies have found that antidepressant medication can increase the serotonin levels in the brain and improve behavior in compulsive hoarders. According to the Mayo Clinic, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant most commonly used to manage hoarding. Evidence shows that one of the SSRIs, Paxil, improves symptoms of hoarding along with other obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms. Hoarders do not always respond well to antidepressants; therefore, it is important to consider alternative types of treatments including cognitive-behavioral therapy.
2. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Antidepressants alone cannot help treat the underlying behavior in most people with mental health conditions; therefore, CBT or cognitive-behavioral therapy is beneficial as a form of treatment. CBT is effective because it goes beyond “talk therapy” where the therapist visits the patient’s home to take a “hands on” approach. In this case, the therapist would visit the hoarder’s home to help them address the issue of hoarding clearly and learn to make decisions about certain items. CBT can also help individuals learn healthier methods to cope with stressful situations resulting in a confrontation of fears when they are less afraid. The individual will also become aware of the situation, as well as how to change their critical thinking in these situations.
3. Group Therapy And Individual Sessions
In addition to CBT, it is recommended that intensive outpatient therapy is used by specific patients. Free treatment is available to individuals participating in clinical research trials. For example, the Institute of Living at The Hartford Hospital in Connecticut is conducting three research studies on compulsive hoarding. The first is a comparative study of obsessive-compulsive disorder to compulsive hoarding; the second is a neuropsychological study looking to examine cognitive functioning in compulsive hoarding, and the third is a study to understand the brain functioning in a compulsive hoarder with brain scans.