We recently received a request from a person who wanted to discuss the effects of clutter on seniors, specifically Diogenes syndrome. Diogenes syndrome, also known as senile squalor syndrome, is a disorder characterized by extreme self-neglect, domestic squalor, social withdrawal, apathy, compulsive hoarding of garbage or animals, and lack of shame. Clutter can have a dramatic impact on the lives of seniors with 1 in 20 seniors having tendencies consistent with hoarding. I think you will find her blog to be interesting, especially if you have a senior in your life.
Watching Out for Diogenes Syndrome in Seniors
It can be very hard to part with things we think we may need in the future, yet learning to let go of what we don’t have room for, is one of the first steps to a neat, tidy and hygienic home. If you have an elderly relative and you notice that they tend to hoard things, it’s important to understand that this can be very common; studies show that around one in 20 seniors have hoarding tendencies. Sometimes hoarding behavior can be extreme, or be accompanied by self-neglect, social withdrawal, and squalor. If so, your loved one may need specialist help, often a combination of pharmacological and psychological treatments, closely related to treatment for obsessive-compulsive treatment.
When does Hoarding Amount to Diogenes Syndrome?
Diogenes syndrome is characterized by the above-mentioned behaviors, in addition to a lack of ‘shame’ or sense of embarrassment about these extreme behaviors. It was coined after Greek philosopher, Diogenes, a Greek philosopher (412-323 BC) who expressed contempt for social organization and promulgated the advantages of a lack of shame. It can exist on its own, or be a secondary effect of mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, dementia, or alcoholism. It is also commonly associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior (OCD)
Diogenes syndrome, which has an average onset age of 75, can be very hard to deal with for family members of affected seniors, since it is accompanied by an inability to attend to basic needs such as nutrition and hygiene. In very extreme cases, it can result in anemia, skin conditions and malnutrition. Seniors can also pose a fire risk for themselves and others, which is why it is important that seniors obtain professional help if extreme hoarding behaviors and other symptoms are noticed.
Hoarding can sadly involve animals; rescue organizations often find cats, dogs, and birds hoarded in homes, as well as dead animals buried beneath furniture and other hoarded items.
How to Help those with Diogenes Syndrome
Because seniors with extreme hoarding behaviors tend to be socially reclusive, it can be very difficult to convince them to see a doctor to obtain diagnosis and treatment, but efforts should be made in this sphere, since treatment can be life-saving. Tests carried out when this syndrome is suspected include cognitive and malnutrition tests. Specialists will help set up a management plan, which may sometimes lead to institutionalization if the person is mentally ill or has dementia, legal interventions to determine competency, and the involvement of a public guardian or trustee. Experts always aim to balance the right to autonomy with responsibility for the affected senior. If possible, the person is sent home, but cognitive behavioral therapy and other treatments are usually prescribed, and affected seniors are encouraged to start making small changes that can increase in scope as time goes by. When hoarding is severe, family members should abstain from forcibly entering their loved one’s home and throwing things out, since Diogenes patients become increasingly depressed by this type of invasive action and begin hoarding new items in a short space of time.
Diogenes Syndrome involves much more than being untidy or collecting things; it is an extreme behavior which most often occurs in individuals aged 75 or above, and which can be accompanied by other illnesses, including dementia. The consequences of Diogenes Syndrome can be severe, but invasive action should be avoided, since it can worsen symptoms. Seniors should be gently referred to specialist services, so that treatment can begin as soon as possible.
Our guest blogger is Cassie Steele. Cassie lived through this with her parents and is now the content editor for a small senior care and information website. For more information, here is a link to her guide on this topic – https://www.shieldmysenior.com/diogenes-syndrome/
ClutterBGone has assisted many seniors with reducing clutter, downsizing and life transitions. Contact us here to see how we can help your loved ones.