June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month and Dr. Terry Koenig, associate professor at Kansas University School of Social Welfare, spoke at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library on Thursday regarding the issues of hoarding.
“People engage in hoarding behaviors for many different reasons,” says Koenig. “Some of the hoarding is viewed as an emotional attachment to the items. In other instances there is no emotional attachment at all, there’s more of a brain impairment or an information processing problem where the person has difficulty making decisions about getting rid of things.”
Koenig says it is difficult for someone to step in and help the person who is hoarding because they are adults making their own decisions and don’t necessarily see a problem with what they are doing. However, due to the increasing clutter and items that are not thrown away, it can become a real risk to the health of the person and the community that surrounds them.
“We have issues around fire hazard and code enforcement where there are structural impacts due to the housing because the hoarding has gotten so bad,” says Koenig. “A wall ends up almost nearly falling down, or there’s an insect infestation and then it affects not only the person who is hoarding but it affects the neighbors and the community around that person.”
Koenig says that cleaning up the mess is a temporary fix to the problem and that the mental issues behind the hoarding is what needs to be addressed. She has found that a process known as motivational interviewing has proven to be a successful way of reducing the hoarding.
“There are goals that they want to reach that the hoarding keeps them from reaching, so we gain their motivation or interest in pursuing hoarding,” Koenig says. “It’s hard to have family to your home if you’ve got hoarding behavior up to the max. Your family doesn’t want to visit and that might be a motivation for the person changing their behavior.”