A growing number of seniors are living with the disorder known as hoarding and the accompanying mental and physical health risks. For seniors who hoard, the health risks can be especially high. Mounds of clutter and garbage can make walking difficult, if not impossible, and can cause the hoarder to experience a dangerous or even life-threatening fall, lung and breathing problems, illnesses related to infestations and other maladies.
Many seniors who suffer from hoarding tendencies are ashamed of the condition of their homes and are found out only after a crisis such as mice or insect infestation or a fall that necessitates a hospital stay. Then there are animal hoarders, who obsessively collect animals, often turning their homes into makeshift rescue centers, causing many health problems for the hoarder.
The prevalence of hoarding in the general population is placed at 1 to 2.5 percent, although some experts believe the number to be somewhat higher. And a recent study of senior hoarders found that 45 percent were unable to use their refrigerators, 42 percent were unable to use their kitchen sinks and 10 percent could not use their toilets.
While the causes of hoarding are not well understood, in seniors contributing factors may be that they lived through the Great Depression and now value possessions to an extreme or that they are overwhelmed by depression and cling to mementos of their long lives and deceased relatives. Some senior hoarders are struggling with mental illness; many are reluctant to ask for help, fearing they may be deemed unfit to care for themselves and sent to live in eldercare facilities.