Another Reason to Check on Your Neighbors…The Link Between Isolation and Hoarding

Theresa Cashman
April 3, 2020

I doubt anyone will be surprised by my next sentence. As we age, people tend to become more of who they already are. If you’re someone who delights in meeting new people and strives to stay active, you’re likely to continue to be that type of person as you age. Perhaps you’ll find yourself taking up new hobbies that push you even further in that direction. We know this about ourselves by watching our parents age.

Unfortunately, the opposite can also be true. Those who struggle to socialize, or never really “fit in” tend to further isolate themselves as they age.

Don’t get me wrong! Solitude is a wonderful thing for both body and mind. Plenty of monks, nuns, and other spiritual seekers across the world can attest to the power of seclusion. However, it’s when a human mind is left in isolation when there is unresolved and unexamined trauma that things can go a little haywire.

There has been a wide range of research done on hoarding tendencies, yielding the following scientific results:

  1. “Compulsive hoarding is a progressive and chronic condition that begins early in life. Left untreated, its severity increases with age.” (1) This indicates that hoarding in the elderly is likely a result of unresolved childhood conflict.
  2. “Compulsive hoarding is largely unrecognized and untreated in older adults.” (1) Though a shift is happening, at the moment, many older adults still carry a stigma surrounding addressing mental health challenges.
  3. Hoarding has been linked with social isolation, and often occurs in tandem with depression, co-morbid anxiety and PTSD. (2)
  4. Excess clutter presents a greater risk of falls for at risk seniors. (2)
  5. Hoarding has also been documented to have profound effects on caregivers who, “struggle to cope with both the environmental and interpersonal impacts of the hoarding.” (3)
  6. While we often think of hoarding in the extreme (“as seen on TV”), “in actual clinical practice, such dramatic cases are not common.” In other words, hoarding doesn’t always look like “hoarding,” and is often much less life-threatening than we think. (4) What we should look out for are situations where someone’s possessions rob them of their ability to live life to the fullest.
  7. Luckily, there’s good news! Cognitive and behavioral treatments are often effective for compulsive hoarding. This is GREAT news because it gives caregivers an avenue to help the people they care for. (5)

This is all to say, look out for each other. You will likely not be able to change the course of someone’s pathological behaviors. Please don’t put that burden on yourself. But we are social creatures and we need one another. Even the most well-adjusted of us have some sort of pathology we’re working through.

Be kind to each other. Check on your neighbors. Show love whenever you can.