How do I help a hoarder?

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My recently widowed aunt lives alone and has been in the same house for over 35 years. Her house is dirty and her belongings are piled waist high throughout her home. When I offer to help her clean some of it out, she becomes very angry. How can I handle this?

When someone collects things compulsively and is unable to discard them, there is a possibility this person suffers from a condition known as hoarding. Hoarding is thought to be related to obsessive compulsive disorder but researchers are still learning more about the causes and cures of this condition.

Hoarding can cause danger in the form of fire hazards, unsanitary conditions and obstacles that can cause tripping and falling. Signs and symptoms of hoarding include compulsively acquiring seemingly useless objects, the inability to discard things, forming intense attachments to possessions and an extremely cluttered living space. For many hoarders, possessions are a source of comfort and coping and the idea of throwing things out can cause intense panic.

Since your aunt lives alone, she may face social isolation which is a risk factor for hoarding. Other risk factors include stressful life events, family history and attachments to possessions. Research does not recommend attempting to convince your family member to stop hoarding. Rather, you should seek medical or mental health advice from the family doctor.

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