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We’ve all seen (or at least heard of) reality TV shows that deal with hoarding. But what do you do if you’re pretty sure you’re the caregiver of a real-life hoarder?

Understand what hoarding is

In order to help the caree you suspect of hoarding, it’s important to understand what hoarding is and what it isn’t. Hoarding is not a sentimental attachment to items. After all, most of us have those kinds of attachments. Hoarding is actually a mental disorder, as per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Why hoarding negatively impacts older adults

Although younger demographics can also suffer from hoarding, older adults are more likely to be negatively impacted by this disorder for several reasons. The first is that their hoarding collections are the culmination of not just years but decades. Another reason is that living around such clutter increases their risk for fall-related injuries. It can also disguise symptoms of dementia-related illnesses until it is too late for treatment.

What can you do for someone who hoards?

Realize that addressing hoarding is not something one caretaker can do alone. The first thing to do, if possible, is to have your caree examined by their physician. He or she may be able to make a referral to a mental health specialist who can prescribe a more tailored course of treatment.