Hoard­ing be­comes worse with old age

Study shows 70% of over-sev­en­ties are af­fected by this puz­zling con­di­tion

The Star Early Edition - - HEALTH - DAILY MAIL

NEW RE­SEARCH into hoard­ing has re­vealed just how the con­di­tion starts be­com­ing a prob­lem in 30-some­things and wors­ens with age and men­tal de­cline leav­ing 70% of over-sev­en­ties af­fected.

Hoard­ing is not just about hold­ing on to your chil­dren’s school paint­ings, but is de­fined as the ex­ces­sive col­lec­tion of items that of­ten ap­pear to have no value, cou­pled with an in­abil­ity to get rid of them.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Health Ser­vice (NHS), those af­fected ac­quire an ex­ces­sive num­ber of items and store them in a chaotic man­ner.

It is con­sid­ered to be a prob­lem if the clut­ter in­ter­feres with ev­ery­day liv­ing and causes sig­nif­i­cant dis­tress or af­fects qual­ity of life.

Hoard­ing was once thought to be a form of ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive dis­or­der (OCD), how­ever OCD treat­ments have been largely in­ef­fec­tive.

Hoard­ing is now re­garded as a stand­alone con­di­tion with treat­ments spe­cific to it and re­search shows th­ese can help in up to 70% of cases.

Many hoard­ers col­lect al­most any­thing. While some fo­cus on other items, clothes, news­pa­pers and books are the most com­mon, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished by Michi­gan Univer­sity.

How­ever, the list also in­cludes things such as till re­ceipts, empty cans, rub­bish and grass cut­tings.

“Hoard­ing is poorly un­der­stood,” says Dr Cosmo Hall­strom, a con­sul­tant psy­chi­a­trist in private prac­tice in Lon­don, and a spokesper­son for the Royal Col­lege of Psy­chi­a­trists.

“There is a lit­tle bit of it in all of us. We get at­tached to things and we do not want to throw them away, that is part of hu­man be­hav­iour. But in some it gets out of hand, and be­comes a prob­lem.

“Hoard­ing of­ten starts in a small way, and it seems that the judg­ment of hoard­ers is im­paired in some way.

“They of­ten, for ex­am­ple, over-value the pos­ses­sions they have col­lected.

“What­ever hoard­ers see in terms of clut­ter doesn’t seem to mat­ter to them.

“What mat­ters is the fact that th­ese things have im­por­tance to them and los­ing them would trig­ger dis­tress.”

The most fre­quent rea­son given for hold­ing on to things is to pre­vent waste, al­though emo­tional at­tach­ments and su­per­sti­tions are also im­por­tant. A com­mon be­lief is that if some­thing is thrown away, some­thing bad will hap­pen.

The Michi­gan re­search shows that peo­ple who hoard tend to form intense emo­tional at­tach­ments to a wider va­ri­ety of ob­jects than nor­mal. They of­ten at­tach hu­man­like qual­i­ties to inan­i­mate ob­jects, feel­ing grief at the prospect of get­ting rid of them, and be­lieve they are safer when they are sur­rounded by them.

One the­ory is that hoard­ing is some kind of evo­lu­tion­ary trait, and the need to sur­vive has given us all a propen­sity to squir­rel away use­ful things, such as food and fuel, but in peo­ple with hoard­ing dis­or­der, the nor­mal checks and bal­ances have gone awry.

The in­creas­ing preva­lence with age may be linked to men­tal de­cline and a dif­fi­culty in de­ci­sion-mak­ing – brain scans and other stud­ies have shown that hoard­ing seems to in­volve ab­nor­mal­i­ties in ar­eas of the brain in­volved in de­ci­sion-mak­ing, at­ten­tion, or­gan­i­sa­tion and the reg­u­la­tion of emo­tions.

De­pres­sion and anx­i­ety are

‘It is poorly un­der­stood. There is a lit­tle bit of it in all of us’

com­mon co-symp­toms, and there is fre­quently a fam­ily his­tory of hoard­ing.

For many years it was thought that a tiny pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, about 0.4%, was af­fected, but that fig­ure was largely based on hoard­ing as a symp­tom of OCD.

In 2013 it was classed as a sep­a­rate con­di­tion, and the lat­est re­search, based on more than 15 000 twins aged 15 to 97, sug­gests it’s five times more com­mon, af­fect­ing more than 2% of adults.

The re­search, re­ported in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Geri­atric Psy­chi­a­try, also re­vealed that more of us are af­fected as we get older.

“The preva­lence and sever­ity of prob­lem­atic hoard­ing in­crease with age, begin­ning around 30 to 35, with the high­est preva­lence rates seen among in­di­vid­u­als over 65,” said the re­searchers.

Re­search has shown that 42.9% of hoard­ers have de­pres­sion (com­pared with 21% with OCD) and anti-de­pres­sants have been used with some suc­cess.

Teach­ing more pos­i­tive thought pat­terns is also used.

This may in­volve giv­ing pa­tients sim­ple tasks such as clear­ing the kitchen and emp­ty­ing bins, de­signed to help them get used to the act of clean­ing and dis­card­ing.

One study found sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment after 26 ses­sions, while an­other showed nearly 70% were rated by their ther­a­pists as much or very much im­proved.

PIC­TURE: MICHAEL LUTZKY

TOO MUCH STUFF: Hoard­ing is newly recog­nised as both a men­tal health is­sue and a public health prob­lem.

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