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What is hoarding and can it be treated?

Hoarding is a progressive and chronic condition. According to the International OCD Foundation, hoarding is a complex disorder made up of three connected problems: collecting too many items; difficulty getting rid of items; and problems with organization.

Hoarding is not about the stuff someone has in their home. The stuff is a result of many underlying issues. With treatment, those issues are addressed so people can learn the skills and strategies necessary to manage the behavior and keep up change.

We do not know what causes hoarding disorder. Those with the disorder commonly have one or more co-occurring psychiatric conditions, such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Research indicates that between 2 to 6 percent of the population has Hoarding Disorder, although this estimate is likely very low since most people with the disorder do not seek treatment.

Hoarding can affect people of all ages, and its severity is not always linked to a specific age group. The perception that hoarding is more prevalent among older adults is a combination of the amount of time the behavior has gone untreated and increased reporting due to increased interactions with service providers as health and safety needs change with age.

What services are available to help?
Our program through the North Shore Center for Hoarding and Cluttering offers safe and non-judgmental support for individuals and families. We understand that there are different degrees of clutter. We address issues with chronic disorganization and excessive clutter as well as hoarding behavior and hoarding disorder.

Individual and family counseling sessions are available via telephone due to COVID. Counseling involves teaching skills and strategies for managing behavior and maintaining progress.

Support groups lasting eight weeks will begin virtually in October, and our clinical specialists conduct thorough screenings to decide which group is right for you and your situation. We also offer crisis case management services in which an assessment is completed, and a collaborative plan is developed to resolve safety issues in the home.

Our program does not emphasize cleanups or organizational services; however, we can refer you to appropriate community resources.

We accept all types of referrals, including those from individuals, physicians, housing agencies, and other community partners. It is not a pre-requisite that a person has a diagnosis of hoarding disorder to receive services. We see varying levels of hoarding behaviors and have no age or geographic restrictions. We will conduct an initial assessment regardless of whether someone wants individual counseling or group sessions.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is the recommended psychological treatment for hoarding behavior. This treatment focuses on behavior modification and skills development, like sorting and discarding. We always have an open discussion about progress and regression. It is important to expect regression and to support the momentum towards progress.

For more information, contact Clinical Specialist Eileen Dacey 978-624-2207 or email EDacey@nselder.org.