Long Term Care: Dealing with Clutter and Hoarding

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If you or your loved one is planning long term care in your own home (aging in place), you will need to prepare the home for the future. You want to make sure the home is safe, secure, and can accommodate future changes.

Your survey of the home may have uncovered an unpleasant secret. Your aging relative has accumulated piles of unread newspapers and magazines, the refrigerator is full of rotting food, or the cats (just how many are there, anyway?) have taken over the bathroom.

This behavior is not just difficult to look at, it is also a fire and safety hazard. Some of this accumulation is clutter. Bending down to pick up papers may be difficult for a person with arthritis, or a person with vision problems may not be able to read the sell-by date on foods. But sometimes the accumulation of stuff rises to the level of hoarding, which is a more serious problem.

Hoarding interferes with ordinary life by making it impossible to use the space as intended and impedes access in an emergency. You may be tempted to overlook the problem because one good cleaning would get rid of the worst of the mess.

But it’s not something that should be ignored, and if you get rid of the piles of what you call junk and your relative considers priceless, he or she will only refill the space as quickly as possible.

There are many theories about what causes this kind of behavior, which may be related to depression, anxiety, prior losses, or other mental-health issues. Dealing with hoarding requires consultation with experienced mental-health and home-organizing professionals who can negotiate the cleanup in nonjudgmental ways.

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