Sunday, January 30, 2011

Safety Risks of Hoarding

have worked with hoarders for over 10 years now and have come to understand some of the intricacies of hoarding behavior. I wanted to share some of the health & safety issues associated with the accumulation of extreme amounts of random items such as rotting food, trash, papers, household items, furniture, books, etc.

Hoarders are generally unaware of the fact that their lifestyle is a problem or causing a safety hazard to themselves, family and their animals (if applicable). Low self-awareness is one of the many psychological impairments a hoarder is challenged with. This lack of insight into their living conditions and lack of desire to change contributes to the health and safety concerns that arise from living in a filthy, possible insect & rodent infested environment.

The questions that have to be answered upon inspection of such an environment are:
Is there an immediate health & safety threat to the person/s that living in such an environment?
What kind of structural damage is there?
Are exits blocked creating fire & safety hazards for the occupants of the home & the accessibility by emergency services?
Is there adequate housekeeping?
Are the accumulated items posing a risk for slipping or falling injuries?
Are there rodents or is there insect infestation in the home?
Is there an odor problem due to urine or feces, live garbage & a lack of housekeeping?
Are these odors wafting over to the neighbors houses?
Are the adult/s in the home caring for themselves adequately?
If there are children and/or animals in the house, are they being cared for properly?

The hard road ahead is having the person living in these conditions realize the many health & safety risks this lifestyle poses for them and be willing to make a lifestyle change. Where does that motivation to make changes for their health & wellness come from? with limited insight, it can take a life threatening incident for the hoarder to reach out for help.

All to often the hoarder is living in isolation. Because of the many mental health issues the hoarder faces, without the proper intervention of mental health workers and related professionals, the hoarder faces a future of continued acquiring and larger health & safety risks.

Hoarding behavior is a mental health issue and a public health problem. Usually, the behavior has been occurring for a long time and requires patience and understanding. Frequently, it requires the help of other people and agencies. Neglect or abuse issues associated with elders, children, or animals may require emergency interventions. Code violations resulting from neglect or collection of materials may require emergency actions.

After meeting with a lot of caring families and friends that want to help, I always suggest to them that they do not touch the hoarders possessions without full consent of the hoarder. As a professional organizer, I'm one of the team players on the related professions collaborative team. I team up with mental health provides, local agencies, social workers and of course the family.

There are state & local agencies that can help hoarders in need. So states have hoarding task forces setup that are extremely useful resources. Here is a site that offers additional resources for hoarders & their families: http://www.ocfoundation.org


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