Health Issues

Hoarding Diagnosis and Treatment

posted: 05/03/12
More About HoardingAbout Hoarding: Buried Alive, What's the Difference between Hoarding and Collecting?

Hoarding is a mental health condition that's often misunderstood. A large shoe collection may be the target of jeers from your spouse when he laments the fact that there's no room in the closet for his clothes, and he may even accuse you of compulsive hoarding, but the fact is that a collection of useful items isn't the typical scenario for this condition.

Compulsive Hoarding Behaviors

Compulsive hoarding that's serious enough to require treatment usually includes these three components:

An inability to discard objects - The behavior is excessive and the collected objects usually have little or no monetary value. Some common objects oarders collect are newspapers and clothing, although they can collect almost anything. A cluttered living space - This goes beyond a pile of books next to a favorite chair. Compulsive hoarders will accumulate clutter in such quantities that they have trouble getting around their homes to perform simple tasks like cooking or sleeping. Distress or impaired function - If hoarding causes an inability to lead a normal life, or the thought of others touching or removing hoarded objects causes great anxiety, it signals something more than being a passionate or quirky "collector".

Two other common characteristics of hoarders are perfectionism and procrastination. These appear to be two sides of the same coin. Hoarders delay activities, like discarding what others perceive as junk, because they don't want to make the mistake of getting rid of something they may need later. It's easier to deal with the anxiety of making the wrong choice by doing nothing and letting things pile up. Hoarders will also postpone tasks because they don't want to do them in a way they perceive as wrong or bad.

Compulsive Hoarding and OCD

Compulsive hoarders are often comforted by the presence of the objects they collect, and that comfort reduces anxiety. It's similar to the way people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) count objects or wash their hands to relieve anxiety. The relationship between these two conditions is considered so close that compulsive hoarding is categorized as a variety of OCD, even though there's some debate among experts about whether, in a small percentage of cases, it might not be more closely related to illnesses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or depression.

Treatments for Compulsive Hoarding

Compulsive hoarding can be difficult to treat, particularly when a sufferer has trouble accepting the fact that he's actually sick. Many times hoarders think they're fine and everyone is making a big fuss over nothing.

One of the most effective drugs currently used to treat hoarding is paroxetine, a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). It's a specific type of antidepressant. Like other types of OCD, though, hoarding doesn't respond to drug therapies alone as well as some other types of mental illnesses do. Usually successful treatment includes medication and cognitive behavioral therapy to change long established habits. Therapy can take years and involve difficult adjustments. Remember, hoarders derive comfort from what they do, and it's hard to strip that away without the process being frightening and painful.

There are reasons to be optimistic, though. Research into compulsive hoarding is ongoing, and new therapies are emerging all the time. If you're looking for help, be sure to find a professional in your area who has experience in treating compulsive hoarding or OCD.

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