The new revision of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual will be published next year—and includes a new section that could help elderly hoarders get treated.
When I think about the mess we found in my grandmother’s house after we moved her into a residential care home—including piles of old newspapers, boxes of cheap curios, and a collection of over-the-counter and prescription medications—it seems clear that she was a classic hoarder. But at the time, Diogenes syndrome and elderly hoarding disorder were not commonly known medical terms, and the TV show “Hoarders” wasn’t even a twinkle in a producer’s eye. More’s the pity, because we could have been much better equipped to address my grandmother’s care if we had known what we were dealing with.
Fortunately, there’s good news for caregivers dealing with a hoarding family member: next year’s revision of the American Psychiatric Association’s core reference, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or DSM-5, will include hoarding disorder as a stand-alone category, rather than a subcategory of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The authors of the DSM expect that this will “increase public awareness, improve identification of cases, and stimulate both research and the development of specific treatments for Hoarding Disorder,” according to an article in Psychology Today.
Understanding Elderly Hoarding
A 2008 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins revealed that about 4 percent of the population as a whole shows hoarding behavior, but that percentage goes up to 6.2 in people over 55. And hoarding in older adults comes with a unique set of potential perils. Not only can hoarding cause physical danger—increasing the risk of falls in a home crammed with stuff, and creating hazardous or unsanitary conditions—it can also indicate the presence of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or mental illness.
How Will Hoarding Disorder Be Diagnosed?
Once the DSM-5 comes out next year, hoarding disorder will have a separate category of its own, so that it can be identified and diagnosed independently of obsessive-compulsive disorder or other illnesses. What stays the same is the criterion that the hoarder’s behavior either causes them significant distress or threatens their health or that of others—that it goes beyond just being an avid collector and impairs everyday healthy functioning. According to Psychology Today, the new criteria for diagnosis will include:
- Ongoing difficulty letting go of personal possessions, regardless of their value;
- Strong urges to save items, and/or significant distress at the thought of discarding them;
- These symptoms lead to a level of clutter so extreme that a home or office is unusable;
- The hoarding cannot be attributed to another medical condition or psychological disorder.
When Hoarding Becomes an Illness
When you have a loved one with hoarding disorder, the ramifications can be emotional, physical, social, and even financial or legal. However, with better information available about the causes and symptoms of hoarding, it should be easier for caregivers and families to get hoarders the help they need, whether that’s therapy, assisted living, or both.
Have you dealt with a similar situation? Do you think that improving public awareness is the answer? Let us know in the comments.