Holding on to things that bring us joy can be important, but taking the habit of collecting and keeping items to an extreme can become a problem for some seniors.
Diogenes Syndrome, also referred to as Senile Squalor Syndrome, is a behavioural disorder faced by some seniors that manifests in hoarding and other behaviours related to lifestyle and cleanliness that can be harmful to seniors’ safety and wellbeing as well as their physical and mental health.
The intersections that can exist between varying biological, environmental, and situational elements of older age mean that seniors are more disposed to engaging in hoarding and other behaviours connected to Diogenes Syndrome. Physiologically speaking, some health conditions, such as dementia and impairment of the brain’s frontal lobe, can contribute to hoarding behaviours, as can certain genetic predispositions. On the other hand, diverse factors such as traumatic events, feelings of isolation, lack of stimulation, and aspects related to elements of day-to-day life, can generate or intensify these behaviours and the ways in which they come to impact seniors’ lives.
Behaviours Connected to Diogenes Syndrome
Diogenes Syndrome can come in the form of numerous behaviours in varying degrees and levels of intensity depending on the personal circumstances of the senior in question. Some of the harmful behaviours that can be connected to Diogenes Syndrome may include:
- Unwillingness to Accept Help
- Social Withdrawal
- Neglect of Self-Care
- Lack of Shame
- Domestic Uncleanliness
- Distrust of Others
- Distorted Sense of Reality
- Compulsive Hoarding of Items/Objects
Tidying Up and Clearing Out
For seniors who have chosen to continue living in their own homes, a safe, clear, and clean space is truly important for creating and upholding an appropriate state of health and wellbeing. Whether a senior has just collected a few too many belongings, or whether they have a full-on case of Diogenes Syndrome, it is important that efforts be carried out to clean up, clear things out, and create a safe and comfortable environment in which seniors can spend their time. Taking on the role of sorting through someone’s belongings and determining what to keep, what to throw or give away, and how to arrange the items that remain, can be a daunting task under any circumstances. Here are some tips that may help to make the process a little more manageable:
- Organize Systematically: Creating and sticking to a consistent system and decision making process for all items can help to make the process occur with more ease, and can help keep the physical space more organized. Having assigned categories or piles for items such as ‘keep’, ‘trash’, ‘donate’, and ‘storage’, as well as specific criteria by which to decide which category an item will end up in will be a major help.
- Make Time: Decide how best to manage time to get through everything that needs to be done. Whether you would rather choose one day to tackle everything at once, or if breaking it up into smaller jobs over multiple days would be better; set a deadline, make a plan, and get organized.
- Go Room by Room: Break the job up into smaller parts, rather than approaching it as one huge task, in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Consider each room independently from the others, starting with one and not moving on to another until it has been completed. This will not only help to create natural breaking points, but will also make progress more visible and, therefore, easier to celebrate.
- Get Help: Particularly in circumstances where seniors have accumulated a huge number of items within their homes, clearing through all the clutter can be too overwhelming a job for one person to take on. Try recruiting family or friends to work together as a team to get through more or delegate tasks to create efficiency. If it all seems like too much, there are professionals and resources available that can be consulted or called in for major help.
- Get Clean and Set Up: Once clutter and hoarded items have been downsized and dealt with, make use of the opportunity to make a fresh start by getting everything clean, and setting up the home in a way that will be most favourable for health.
Hoarding behaviours and Diogenes Syndrome are difficult to face, especially because seniors in this situation likely won’t necessarily comprehend how dangerous or unhealthy their surroundings are. It is always helpful to keep in mind, throughout all the challenges that come with supporting a loved one, that while the process will not be easy and the upkeep will take effort, all of the work is in pursuit of setting up a safer environment in which seniors can thrive.