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Handling Senior Hoarding and Self-Neglect

Do you have an elderly parent or relative whose living conditions seem to be deteriorating? Are you met with mountains of clutter when you enter the living space? Does your loved one seem to be neglecting his or her own well-being?

If so, your loved one may be suffering from Diogenes syndrome, also known as senile squalor syndrome. In cases of Diogenes syndrome, it is usually up to the children or relatives of those affected to identify the first signs and seek out care for seniors with the syndrome. Below are some tips for grappling with this condition.

What is Diogenes Syndrome?

Diogenes syndrome is a condition that primarily affects seniors near the end of life. While the exact causes of the condition are not entirely known, patients have typically undergone high levels of stress or trauma before its onset.

Diogenes is characterized by several symptoms:

Hoarding. Seniors suffering from Diogenes tend to hoard extensively. Often, those affected will simply collect rubbish and allow it to pile up around the home. However, some sufferers have been shown to organize their hoarded materials extensively.

Self-Neglect. Those affected tend to stop caring for both themselves and their homes. Self neglect may present itself through poor hygiene, torn clothes, untreated sores or malnutrition, while domestic neglect may be seen in dirty dishes, unclean furniture, dust buildup and mold.

Social withdrawal. Diogenes syndrome sufferers typically become reclusive, cutting social ties with friends and relatives.

Refusal to Accept Help. One of the most troubling aspects about this syndrome is that sufferers tend to be in full denial and will often reject any attempts at help. They can also be highly untrusting of doctors, caregivers and other outside figures.

How to Respond to Diogenes Syndrome

There is, unfortunately, no know cure for Diogenes, and the condition is notoriously hard to manage. Since seniors affected typically reject help, it can be extremely tough to manage their disorder and their living conditions. These problems can be further exacerbated by dementia or other mental/behavioral disorders, which often coincide with Diogenes syndrome. When responding to a case of Diogenes, here are some guidelines and tips that you should keep in mind:

Always ask first whether or not treatment will improve the person’s well-being and enjoyment of life. As distressing as this may be, sometimes the best course of action with Diogenes is to let the person be, since treatment may be too stressful for him or her, or impossible without consent.

Consider taking on (or hiring someone to take on) basic tasks the person might neglect, such as having meals delivered or regular cleaning.

If you choose to take steps to reduce the clutter in their home, make sure you take the right approach. Preplan your cleaning strategy, enlist help and try to accomplish as much in single trips as possible. Be prepared for the clutter to reappear within weeks or months. Diogenes usually makes social interaction with strangers stressful, so try to reduce the number of people your loved one must interact with, and limit unfamiliar visitors to one at any given time.

If you suspect that a loved one may be suffering from Diogenes, you may also wish to discuss your options with someone more familiar with the condition. Consider reaching out to a doctor or a senior care expert to discuss your options more fully. FBN

By Jordan Fox

Visiting Angels of Flagstaff is the leader in Dementia and Alzheimer’s specialized care, serving Flagstaff, Williams, Winslow, Payson and Show Low. For more information regarding home care and living assistance services, visit our website visitingangels.com/flagstaff.

You can also contact the director of the Flagstaff Office, Jordan Fox, at jfox@visitingangels.com or call the office at 928-220-4100.  The office is located at 2500 S Woodlands Village Blvd #24, Flagstaff, AZ 86001.

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