If you have ever seen the A&E program Hoarders you likely have an idea of how this type of behavior can get out of hand. Despite the fact that this program has brought this disorder to the attention to the public, I doubt the producers’ intentions are all that altruistic. In today’s entertainment landscape it is cheaper and more profitable to make shows that shock and grab your attention rather than write, create and entertain. Unfortunately this type of behavior is also more commonplace than the extreme cases shown on television and can present a significant risk to the hoarder, those around them and emergency workers, especially firefighters. The first course of action if you come across a situation that you feel is hoarding is to identify the problem. Hoarding is defined as; The acquisition of and failure to discard a large number of items that appear useless or of little value. A typical hoarder will have so much clutter that it will impair their ability to fully use and navigate their living space.
But why do people hoard in the first place? Hoarding in some cases is a type of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), so the hoarder cannot control the behavior without some sort of assistance, in most OCD cases this resorts to medical help or therapy. For older adults hoarding may simply be another sign of deeper psychiatric problems that have either been misdiagnosed or neglected. Either way, any individual who exhibits hoarding behavior needs some sort of professional medical attention and should not be left to continue with the practice of hoarding.
Hoarding as mentioned previously does present a significant health risk on many levels. Cluttered rooms will have poor air circulation so molds and fungus can thrive, infestations of insects, mice and rats will also take advantage of this type of environment. In the matter of fire safety; excessive clutter also constitutes a significant fuel load and restricted access makes the situation even worse. When entering a home that is on fire there is no worse situation that having to navigate yourself around excessive clutter, in most cases like this firefighters will be called to exit the home as the unknowns present too much of a risk. Additionally it can make exiting the home for any occupant almost impossible if you cannot get around piles of collected material. Fire departments if alerted to cases of excessive hoarding can actually order a cleanup of the property on the grounds that it represents a significant risk to life. This type of action has been taken in a number of municipalities across Ontario, however if families identify and address this behavior earlier we can hopefully reduce the occurrence of extreme cases.
Published in the Villager newspaper November 9, 2011
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