David Charles chooses his words carefully when talking about the research project he’s working on for his doctoral dissertation.
That’s particularly true when he’s discussing the type of people he wants to recruit to help him with it.
He resists using the word “hoarder,” saying instead he hopes to interview people “who have difficulty with clutter.
“I know people don’t like to be labeled as hoarders and that’s not my intent,” he said.
Charles is close to finishing his doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago, Ill. The dissertation, he said, “is the last thing I have to finish before I can put the Ph.D. after my name.”
Charles, who is conducting the study in conjunction with the Greenup County Health Department and Pathways Inc., said his goal is to determine what makes the brains of people who have compulsive hoarding disorder different than than those of people who do not.
To accomplish that, he said he needs to recruit at least 20 people who have hoarding issues to serve as test subjects, along with 20 each who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, both of which are closely related to hoarding. He said he needs subjects in the latter two groups so he can compare their results to those of the subjects in the hoarding group.
Participating in the study will involve filling out some questionnaires and taking a computer-based test, Charles said. Anyone in the northeastern Kentucky and the Tri-State is welcome to take part, he said.
Charles, the middle son of Ashland Mayor Chuck Charles and a 2000 Paul G. Blazer High School graduate, said he realizes he’s dealing with sensitive subject matter and people might be embarrassed to come forward for that reason.
However, he said he could give every assurance the information provided by the test subjects will be held in the strictest of confidence.
“My university monitors everything I do to make sure patients’ information is protected,” he said.
Also, no names will be attached to the study; individual subjects will be assigned numbers, Charles said.
As for the embarrassment factor, Charles said he would hope people would be able to get past that once they realized the last thing he’d consider doing is holding anyone up for ridicule.
“I don’t judge. I’m not here to judge. I’m here to help,” he said.
Charles also said he hoped people would want to participate in the study in the interest of science. But, if that’s not sufficient motivation, each subject will receive $20 to help defray their travel costs, he said. Also, for those interested, information on self-help strategies for dealing with hoarding disorder will be available through the health department, he said.
Also, subjects can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing they’ve done something that could lead to greater understanding of and more effective treatment for compulsive hoarding, which researchers have only recently begun to study and which has been defined as a stand-alone mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders since May of last year.
Compulsive hoarding is defined a pattern of behavior that is characterized by the excessive acquisition of and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that cover the living areas of the home and cause significant distress or impairment.
Compulsive hoarding behavior has been associated with a number health risks, mental and physical. For example, Charles said, people with the disorder are often embarrassed by their living conditions, so they become socially isolated, which can lead to depression, he said. Or, if a person can’t use his or her kitchen for its normal functions because of excessive clutter, that person is likely to subsist on a fast-food diet, which can lead to obesity, and, in turn, to associated health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, he said.
Also, hoarding puts individuals at risk from a host of other issues, including fires, falls, disease and infections caused by poor sanitation and injuries from falling objects, Charles said. And, if the hoarding becomes so severe it spreads outside the home, it can become a public health risk as well, he said.
Many areas have established multi-disciplinary task forces to deal with the issues caused by hoarding, Charles said.
The health department was asked to partner with Charles in the study by Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital. It jumped at the opportunity because it’s not often it gets to participate in public-health research projects, which is one of its 10 mandates, said Chris Crum, Greenup County public health director.
“We don’t have a lot of funding to go out and do research,” he said. “When we get those opportunities, we definitely want to follow up with them.”
Crum said the study also dovetails with several of the other tasks with which Kentucky health departments are charged, including diagnosing and investigating health problems and health hazards in the community and mobilizing community partnerships to diagnose and solve those problems.
Anyone interested in being part of the study should contact the health department at the (606) 473-9838 or the Greenup Pathways office at (606) 473-7333.
KENNETH HART can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2654.