Array

Hoarding can be a disease but it’s a matter of degree

“How can live this way?”

This thought always crossed my mind when I entered the office of my medical colleague. For years medical journals and other assorted material were stacked a foot or more high all over his desk. In fact, so high that he had to talk to patients in his examining room rather than his office. But it seems he was not alone.

A study conducted in 2008 by Johns Hopkins Medical School revealed that hoarding may be more prevalent than previously thought. Researchers concluded that one in 20 people may suffer from some form of hoarding.

In fact, it appears I’m one of the 20! My wife recently threatened “If you don’t toss out those old shoes, I will.” But I like old shoes, just like old wine, and never want to part with comfortable well-worn foot wear. Fortunately, this hasn’t yet resulted in divorce!

Others are not so lucky. One man I know finds it impossible to toss out anything. His home is loaded with newspapers and magazines dating back to World War II. He has half a dozen bicycles in the hall. Old computers and other technology are stuffed into rooms so they’re inaccessible. Now, his wife has filed for divorce since there’s no room to sit on the sofa, use the kitchen stove, or get into bed.

It’s human nature to collect and save possessions that bring back pleasant memories. Researchers say that children as young as two years of age begin to hold onto treasures of one sort or another. And some of us are more prone to collecting than others. That makes me feel a lot better about my old shoes.

Hoarding can be a disease, but it’s a matter of degree. As one wise sage remarked “Too much of anything is worse than none at all.” So to be classified as a bona-fide hoarder you must cross the line from merely hoarding old shoes to an unlimited, unchecked, uncontrollable desire to save vast amounts of things. For some this means holding onto newspapers, old clothes or keeping outdated food products. And in some instances, having dozens of cats or other animals in the home.

Why do people hoard? Dr. Jack Samuels, a psychologist who specializes in personality disorders at Johns Hopkins Medical School, reports that hoarders are often “overwhelmed by their possessions and unable to make decisions about how to organize or cull them.”

In some instances, hoarding is triggered by the death of a loved one causing the inability to discard clothing and other items of a deceased partner.

So when is it time to seek help? Certainly not when the only problem is simply keeping a few pairs of old shoes. But, if you can no longer get into bed due to the pile of old World War II newspapers, it’s time to either get help or seek a divorce.

But treating hoarders is more difficult than prescribing a pill for hypertension. For one thing many hoarders deny the severity of their problem. In fact, some become angry when criticized that they’re tormenting other members of the family.

Hoarding is a compulsive disorder, but it is not the same as obsessive-compulsive disease (OCD). OCD patients have a compulsion to perform repetitive rituals that they know are totally senseless, but cannot stop performing them. Drugs such as Prozac can be helpful in taming OCD rituals. But studies show that Prozac has no effect on the compulsion to hoard.

The most effective way to curb this condition is by home visits of behavioral therapists who can teach hoarders how to organize their lives. But never expect that one quick visit will convince a hoarder to stop ‘cold turkey.’ It’s impossible to quickly eliminate the feeling that “I might need these possessions someday.”

Dr. Samuels says hoarding tends to increase as we age. This isn’t the news I want to hear. Nor is it the news my wife wants either. So the old shoes may have to go, but her compulsion to throw away has to end with the old wine.

For medical tip of the day see www.docgiff.com. For comments info@docgiff.com.

Just Posted

Red Deer rebounding, hosting AUMA convention

Hundreds of municipal officials gather in Red Deer for the AUMA

Celebrate ‘Alberta Culture Days’ here in Red Deer

Lots of family-friendly activities set for this coming weekend

On the run with Melissa Ray

Red Deer runner talks about her intense running experiences

Red Deer RCMP arrest man after truck collides with pub

RCMP are investigating the incident as an impaired driving collision

CATena offers glimpse into Central Alberta Theatre’s new season

Visitors can also check out Memorial Centre refurbishments

Video: Flyers new mascot ‘Gritty’ a bearded, googly-eyed terror

The Philadelphia Flyers unveiled their new mascot Monday, and as one would expect of the team that gave us the “Broad Street Bullies,” he’s far from cuddly.

Veterans Affairs ordered to take second look before supporting vets’ relatives

Liberal government ordered officials to adopt a more critical eye

Ottawa working to iron out kinks in public alert system

The alerts are being credit with saving lives during last week’s tornadoes

Assault charge withdrawn vs. ex-Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna

Former Toronto player agrees to peace bond

UPDATED: Bill Cosby gets 3-10 years in prison for sexual assault

Judge also declared the disgraced comedian a ‘sexually violent predator’

U.S. worker charged after video shows him spitting on customer’s pizza

Jaylon Kerley of Detroit is charged with a felony count of food law violations

Robbery report at outlet mall turns out to be fake: police

Leduc RCMP respond to weapons complaint at premium outlet collection mall

Canada aiming for the moon, and beyond, with new space technology efforts

With an eye on future lunar exploration, Canada’s space agency is calling on companies to present their ideas for everything from moon-rover power systems to innovative mineral prospecting techniques.

New Brunswick Premier meets with lieutenant-governor as Tories, Liberals vie for power

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said the only other leader he had spoken with since results came in was Green Leader David Coon.

Most Read