A Place for Mom
Assisted Living
Memory Care
Independent Living
Senior Living
Sign in
A teal banner

Elderly Hoarding

4 minute readLast updated June 2, 2016
Written by Dana Larsen

Transitioning a parent to senior living is already difficult; but dealing with a parent who is a hoarder can really test a family’s sanity. Unfortunately, Diogenes Syndrome, also known as senile squalor syndrome, is more common than you might think.

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

Take our free care quiz

From simple justifications to sentimental reasons, things can really add up when someone has a hoarding disorder. Aging can also bring on elderly hoarding and Diogenes Syndrome. Learn more from these tips on how to deal with elderly hoarding.

Elderly Hoarding: When Your Parent is a Hoarder

Many families are dealing with loved ones and parents who were hoarders. Sometimes, forms of frontal lobe impairment and dementia can bring on elderly hoarding, which is characterized by:

  • Apathy
  • Compulsive hoarding
  • Domestic squalor
  • Lack of shame
  • Self-neglect
  • Social withdrawal

Hoarding disorder, formerly classified under obsessive compulsive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, now has its own designation. 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 the American Geriatrics Society, living alone for long periods of time with a lack of cognitive stimulation, a genetic predisposition to the condition and a traumatic event can all be a catalyst for the syndrome. This is why senior living can sometimes trump living alone to keep seniors mentally engaged.

Jane Brogan has a mother who is a hoarder, as she describes in a recent article she wrote:

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

“My mother wasn’t always a hoarder. In pictures from before I was born, I can see an almost sterile home. There is no clutter, there are wide open spaces. I was 3 years old when my mother developed an interest in antiques. Later that year, my oldest brother was killed in a car crash, and my family imploded. One brother left home, another enlisted in the Navy, another brother got involved with drugs. The youngest of the boys was in high school. My sisters were 11 and 9 when my brother died. But my mother’s way of dealing with her loss was to become an “antiques collector.” She was a child of the Depression, and the tendency to hold onto things hearkened back to a poor childhood. But, in reality, what she collected was mostly junk, that just kept increasing over time. Mom has Alzheimer’s now. She built a cocoon of belongings around her, and now the cocoon is around her mind… The den and cellar are wall-to ceiling junk.”

We all know that idiosyncrasies can be exacerbated with age. Hoarding is no different. In some instances, it’s already a problem, as in Brogan’s situation. In others, it’s purely a symptom of an individual’s own aging habits.

But regardless of how it starts, it can be a real problem when it’s time to move dad or mom into senior living.

Elderly Hoarding Cleanup

Transitioning a loved one into senior housing is challenging. But having to clean through a hoarder’s personal belongings and deciding what to do with the house adds a whole new layer of difficulty to the situation.

A&E brings in an entire crew to clean up extreme hoarder’s messes; and you probably only have yourself or your family members to help sort through the collection of belongings left in a loved one’s house.

Whether it’s a case of accumulated memorabilia or an extreme case of Diogenes Syndrome, sorting through someone’s belongings is exhausting. Here are a few tips to help you get through elderly hoarding cleanup:

Talk with a Senior Living Advisor

Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.

  1. Enlist a cleaning crew. Whether it’s your family members or friends, get a group of people together to start the cleaning process.
  2. Find and set a date. It’s inevitable — it has to be done. Schedule a date — preferably a Saturday morning — to start the process.
  3. Work room by room. Forget about the 5 rooms that need to be done and start sorting through the first room. Huge tasks of outrageous proportions, broken up into small segments, seem more attainable. By taking a room by room approach, your progress will be noticeable on day one.
  4. Use a system. As you go through each room, set aside a place for each of the following:  Charitables and donations, keepsakes and valuables, and finally, trash.

Once you’ve done this in all rooms, hire a professional to:

  1. Clear the trash (such as 1-800-GOT JUNK or a dumpster service).
  2. Professionally clean.

This process could take a month or so, depending on whether you want to power through. Don’t get frustrated. Set goals and know that your mission will eventually get accomplished.

Do you have experience with elderly hoarding? Share your story or suggestions with how to deal with Diogenes Syndrome in the comments below.

Related Articles:


Meet the Author
Dana Larsen

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

Make the best senior care decision