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The hoarding phenomenon has become sensationalized in media today as there are numerous television shows that focus on this addiction.
The judicial system has recognized that hoarding is a mental illness and, in some states, if a person is charged with hoarding, they are ordered to go a psychological evaluation and treatment. Hoarding is not a new condition, though it is newly popular, and is treatable when using the right methods.
Media Representations of Hoarding
According to a February 2010 article in Psychiatry, hoarding is frequently discussed in the media. A Cincinnati newspaper published a story about a 52-year-old man who was placed on probation due to hoarding-associated health violations. The man’s belongings piles had grown so big that they had become a fire hazard. After the charge, the Cincinnati judge submitted a ruling that asks all severe hoarders to seek some form of court-appointed mental health treatment, as a form of probation.
Communities throughout the country have established task forces to regulate hoarding. Orange County (CA), Marin County (CA), San Francisco (CA), Fairfax (VA) and Newton (MA) have all established police units that focus on controlling and reducing hoarding. Hoarding is also the topic of several television shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show.
What is Hoarding
What Is Hoarding?
Hoarding can be defined as the surplus collection of items accompanied by the inability to throw away or discard the collected items. Hoarders often live in cramped living conditions and homes are filled to capacity. The hoarders get around by making narrow walkways through all the clutter. Hoarders can also collect different kinds of animals. These pets live in the house, but rarely have a clean place to go to the bathroom and are seldom bathed; therefore, both the animals and the hoarder live in unsanitary conditions.
Hoarding is different from collecting in that hoarders do not collect valuable or sentimental items, but rather obtain usually worthless junk. Unlike collectors, hoarders do not store and organize their items, but rather just pile them in unorganized stacks.
In recent psychological diagnostic manuals, hoarding is associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); however, many hoarders do not exhibit any other signs of OCD. This has prompted some physicians to speculate that hoarding may be a separate disease that requires its own diagnostic criteria.
Types of Hoarding
There are a few broad categories of hoarding. Two classifications are linked to the age at which the hoarding begins and the third is specifically for people who hoard pets. All of these hoarding groups share similar characteristics.Hoarding can begin as early as the teenage years. In this age group (roughly 14 and older), hoarding is associated with OCD. Hoarders in this age range may also suffer from major depression, social phobias and generalized anxiety disorder. Young people who hoard often have a family member who also hoards. As with most hoarders, young hoarders collect bizarre, sometimes worthless items. Hoarding in this age group is easier to diagnose because parents are quick to see that their child is collecting a massive amount of junk.In many cases, hoarding habits do not manifest until old age. Elderly hoarders often look haggard and dirty. They may neglect themselves and may not perform even basic hygienic tasks. They constantly store trash in their house and live in very dirty conditions. They are often filthy in appearance, but seem unaware that they are neglecting themselves. This type of hoarding is difficult to diagnose, as most hoarders live in seclusion and hide their obsession behind closed doors. Most often, this type of hoarding is diagnosed after the hoarder is sent to the hospital due to physical collapse or a history of falls. Social services are obliged to inspect the hoarder’s abode, and are often appalled at what they see. Unfortunately, most of elderly hoarders refuse offers of help and treatment. Elderly hoarders are more likely to place profound emotion value on their collections.
There is a special type of hoarder who collects many different kinds of animals. Animal hoarders often hoard other knickknacks, but also own dozens or even hundreds of pets. Animals are often confined in a secluded area so that inspectors will be unable to find them. Animal hoarders care deeply for their pets but are often too disorganized to properly care for them. It is often a local veterinarian, who treats the unhealthy animals, who notices the signs of hoarding.
Most of the signs of hoarding are found within the hoarder’s home. All of the available counter space, sinks, stoves, stairways, desks, floor and any other flat surfaces are stacked with rubbish. When the home is full, hoarders start to store stuff in garages, outdoor sheds, vehicles and yards.
Signs of hoarding include:
Extremely cluttered home
Inability to throw items away
Presence of numerous stacks of periodicals and junk mail
Consistently buying or collecting seemingly useless items, like trash
Constantly moving items from one location to another without really throwing anything away
Restricted social interaction
Illogical emotional attachment to all possessions; hoarders will often not let people borrow or even touch their belongings
Difficulty arranging items neatly
Inability to organize their schedule, frequent procrastination and difficulty making even inconsequential decisions.
When asked why they keep all of their collected items, a hoarder will say that the items may be useful some time in the future, or that the items will one day be very valuable.
There is not enough evidence to identify the exact cause of hoarding. Most hoarders have a family history of hoarding, which means that someone in their family exposed them to these habits while they were growing up. This indicates that genetics and upbringing play a large role in the development of a hoarding disorder.
A study found in the journal CNS Spectrums indicated that hoarders have distinct dysfunctions of specific areas of the brain. Patients with hoarding problems have abnormalities in the anterior cingulated cortex, ventral and medial prefrontal cortex. These areas are responsible for decision-making, focus and emotional regulation. These functional irregularities provide the motivation to start hoarding and provide the emotional connection that makes it difficult for hoarders to let go of their belongings.
Are there Consequences
A hoarding problem is often associated with numerous complications and long-term consequences, such as:
Unsanitary conditions. These conditions increase the risk of developing health problems. Hoarders are often exposed to toxic mold, animal feces and airborne microorganisms.
Increased risk of dangerous falls. Hoarders often have very little room to maneuver and can easily fall amongst their belonging. To make matters worse, large stacks of items can become unstable and possibly fall on the hoarder.
Inability to perform daily tasks, like bathing or cooking. The hoarder’s collection usually fills the sink and blocks the stove and refrigerator. Most hoarders are unable to even reach their bathroom and kitchen.
Poor work performance. Hoarders often have comorbid mental conditions that worsen as time progresses. As the hoarding worsens, the individual will devote more time to hoarding and less time to work output.
Domestic problems. Most hoarders are in conflict with their family members. Relatives who recognize the symptoms of hoarding often try to clean up the hoarder’s house or force the individual to seek treatment. Hoarders often react to this with anger and this places a lot of tension on the relationship.
Self-imposed isolation. Hoarders are often secretive and do not want to share their items with anyone. They often block the front door of their house and stop attending parties or other social gatherings
Fire hazard. Homes of hoarders are often so cluttered that they become a fire hazard. When this occurs, the hoarder’s life and the lives of any neighbors are placed in danger.
Interventions for Hoarding
If you have watched televisions shows that expose hoarders, you will know that most hoarders are reluctant to seek treatment. They frequently have problems with local housing agencies and are fined repeatedly. Despite these problems, they still continue to hoard. In some cases, it takes a court-ordered mandate to forcefully get the hoarder out of the house. This obstinate behavior discourages family members from seeking to help their loved one.
Though they still may resist a little, most hoarders will listen to the prepared speeches of the intervention team members. Often an intervention is the only venue in which a hoarder will feel safe enough to discuss his or her addiction. Most interventions are able to help the hoarder seek treatment. In addition, a properly run intervention provides options for cleaning out and repairing the hoarder’s living space.