Piles of boxes, newspapers, books, trinkets, and even trash. Every room full of various items. How do you know when it’s just clutter or something more serious like hoarding disorder?
On our weekly Facebook show, Health Happens, we talked with Loretta Trujillo, manager for the Chores program with Seniors’ Resource Center, who is trying to get help for those who struggle with hoarding in Colorado. She explains that people with hoarding disorder tend to have difficulty throwing out anything, regardless of actual value, “Hoarding disorder has to do with the need to collect things and keep collecting things. They’re unable to discard or dispose of things even if they’re empty bottle cans, newspapers, trash bags, old food.”
Around 5-7% of the population are hoarders but Trujillo believes that number is much higher, “It’s such a well-kept secret. Hoarders don’t want anyone to see their home and keep people out,” she says.
Hoarding is a mental health condition. When a person has hoarding disorder, things build up to the point where rooms in their home become unusable and even unsafe, “It can be dangerous for a hoarder living in their home. They can have falls and the excess of items in the home create a fire hazard,” explains Trujillo.
Trujillo’s work with hoarders started after she created a pilot project in Denver to provide free house cleanings for anyone over 60, “During that pilot project I discovered hoarders,” she says.
She now covers six Colorado counties including Adams, Broomfield, Denver, Jefferson, Gilpin, and Clear Creek with a little bit of grant money she gets each year. She works with biohazard teams and junk removal companies to clean up homes of hoarders, “When we go in to do a cleaning we try to recycle as many things as possible. We want to minimize the number of things in the home, the potential for fall hazards and fire hazards,” she explains.
Trujillo is doing her part to do what she can. She is limited to helping people over 60, in the six counties she covers, but she is trying to expand that. She says she would also like to see more follow up done with her clients, “I would like to see more mental health counselors who are equipped to come into the home to work with them and uncover why they’re hoarding. I’d also like to see a maintenance program once the cleanup is done, having someone come back monthly to keep the home in the condition it needs to be.”
If you have a loved one you believe is a hoarder Trujillo says to remember that it is a disorder, “Don’t threaten, shame or criticize them. It can do more harm and isolate them more.”
Risk factors for hoarding include personality, family history and stressful life events. Many people who have hoarding disorder have a temperament that includes indecisiveness, if you have a family member who has hoarding disorder you are more likely to develop the disorder yourself, and some develop hoarding disorder after experiencing a stressful life event that they had difficulty coping with such as the death of a loved one, divorce, eviction or losing possessions in a fire.
Because little is understood about what causes hoarding disorder, there’s no known way to prevent it. However, as with many mental health conditions, getting treatment at the first sign of a problem may help prevent hoarding from getting worse.
If you or someone you know needs assistance you can contact Loretta Trujillo by calling the Chore Services Hotline 303-235-6952 or email her at [email protected]. Her contact information is also on the Seniors’ Resource Center’s website: https://srcaging.org/services/deep-cleaning-services/