Columns Opinion Your Views — 21 February 2014
Senior Corner: Did you know that hoarding is a recognized medical condition

John D. Catlett

By John D. Catlett

Did you know that hoarding is a recognized medical condition?

It is associated with various obsessive-compulsive disorders, but there’s not a single known cause. Hoarding has become more prevalent in recent years partly because of the economic downturn and the aging homebound population.

According to research at the University of California, “compulsive hoarding is a disorder characterized by difficulty discarding items that appear to most people to have little or no value. This leads to an accumulation of clutter, such that living and workspaces cannot be used for their intended purposes.

“The clutter can result in serious threats to the health and safety of the sufferer and those who live nearby. Often people with compulsive hoarding also acquire too many items — either free or purchased.”

Victims of this disorder hoard anything, including trash, newspapers, old clothing, animals and food. Hoarding is not associated with any particular race, sex or socioeconomic status. Hoarding is not just being untidy. It is when a person’s normal life functions are impaired to the point that it’s no longer safe to remain in their home.

The Alexandria Department of Code Administration sees approximately one new hoarding case a week. Many more go unreported as family, friends and neighbors often are reluctant to address the condition.

Many times the hoarder resists assistance, not recognizing their condition as a problem. Meanwhile, relatives, friends and neighbors may not report it because they fear that the individual will be displaced from their home without assistance.

The code administration department is the lead agency participating on Alexandria’s hoarding task force, which is a collaboration of several city departments. The group’s mission is to ensure a safe and healthy living environment for those hoarding and those who may be affected by a hoarding condition. It also aims to prevent hoarding behaviors from creating hazards for sufferers and others.

The task force evaluates the financial, physical and mental ability of the hoarder to address the issues that need correcting, bringing together resources — including Rebuilding Together Alexandria, nonprofits and other community agencies — to assist those who may be unable to afford fixing their situation. The group offers resources to end unsafe and/or unhealthy conditions and provides regular follow-ups through the hoarding abatement process.

Members of the hoarding task force work to support hoarders in remediating the hoarding conditions. Rarely — and only in very severe conditions that create immediate life safety concerns — is an individual removed from their home.

Don’t let a neighbor, friend or loved one put themselves or others in danger. Contact the City of Alexandria so that we can get the proper assistance in place.

For more information, or if in need of assistance, please contact the Alexandria Department of Code Administration at 703-746-4200 (open Monday through Friday) or notify the 24-hour city nuisance abatement hotline at 703-836-0041.

- The writer is the director of the Alexandria Department of Code Administration.

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