Posted by: EG | 2009-03-14


Hi, my dad is 82 yrs old and is a terrible hoarder of books, newpapers, clothes, gadgets.. anything. Whole rooms are filled with his stuff. It is time for my parents to move into a retirement home and my dad is having great difficulty sorting and throwing out stuff (there is no way he can take even half!) He becomes angry and stubborn when we offer to help. He feels pressurised to start packing, and says he is " not ready"  (although he signed the papers willingly). I fear he will never actually be ready to let go and make this move.. What do we do? He refuses to see any kind of doctor and won' t let anyone assist him. Please help!

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Our expert says:
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Hoarding is actually recognized as both a potential isolated problem, and as a significant psychological symptom. Older people often find comfort in their Stuff, and get anxious when separated from it. If he is refusing to see any kind of doctor, this is indeed a problem, as some medications can indeed help them to become a bit more organized and more comfortable parting with some of what they obviously ( in anyone else's eyes ) don't need.
If they see any offer of help as being about throwing away their stuff, they will usually be reluctant or unwilling. Sometimes their condition eventually deteriorates to the point that they can no longer resist, or are compulsorily admited somewhere for their own safety.
Sometimes you can persuade them to acept some help in "sorting" or "organizing" their stuff, so that they can enjoy what there is to enjoy and part with what no longer actually brings them joy. Much of the newspaper and magazine stuff they accumulate may be kept because they feel they never had time to look at it, and that there MIGHT be something in there which they would really need or want. On the other hand, they may be able to recognize that the sheer volume of what they have kept actually prevents them from finding whatever is most dear and valuable for them, and they may be persuadable that friend or family may volunteer to spend a couple of hours here and there to help them sort the stuff, to identify stuff that can be thrown away as no longer important to them, and to organize the stuff that mtters most to them, so that they can find it when needed.
Also, they may be more accepting of an approach based on nostalgia and reminiscences, to look at and talk about the older stuff they have.
I regret now, for instance, not having spent more time with my late mother, looking at her marvellous collection of historical family photographs, as they don't have notes on them, and in many cases I, now the oldest left in the family, have no idea who they people in them might be. I know she would have enoyed looking through these with me, identifying people, and adding notes.

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