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Tragic Hoarding Case Leads Many to Wonder, How Could It Get That Far?

Jul 02, 2014

Hoarding has been in the news recently because of the tragic case of a Connecticut woman whose hoarding led to her death. Police found the body of Beverly Mitchell, 66, in her home after the first floor collapsed under the weight of piles of clutter, the New Haven Register reports.

For most of us, it's hard to understand how this disorder grips some people. How does their behavior reach such a troubling point?

The answer is sobering.

"Many people with hoarding don't recognize the impairment, so they won't seek help," explains Howard R. Weeks, MD, the associate chief medical information officer for University of Utah Health.

Hoarding is ongoing difficulty in parting with possessions because a person sees a need to save items, regardless of their value. The disorder affects as much as 5 percent of the population, according to the International OCD Foundation. Hoarding tendencies can be an extension of obsessive compulsive disorder.

Children of hoarders may be more likely to gravitate toward the behavior themselves. Weeks, who is trained in child and adolescent psychiatry, notes that hoarding behavior typically starts between ages 11 and 15. And it often worsens with age.

If you think a loved one may be a hoarder, Weeks offers this advice: "You may want to talk to your doctor to plan an intervention." Therapy and medications such as antidepressants can help.


Signs of Hoarding

According to the International OCD Foundation, signs of hoarding include:

  • A large amount of clutter in the office, at home, in the car or in other spaces (e.g., storage units) that makes it difficult to use furniture or appliances or move around
  • Losing important items like money or bills in the clutter
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the volume of possessions that have "taken over" the house or workspace
  • Being unable to stop taking free items, such as advertising fliers or sugar packets from restaurants
  • Buying things because they are a "bargain" or to "stock up"
  • Not inviting family or friends into the home due to shame or embarrassment
  • Refusing to let people into the home to make repairs