Gray Matters: Hoarding conference slated for early 2019

The Area 1 Agency on Aging was recently awarded a grant from the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services-Mental Health Prevention and Early Intervention to host “Dispelling Stigma: Hoarding Education, Treatment and Prevention Conference” at the Sequoia Conference Center in Eureka. On Friday, March 8, 2019, we will bring together mental health and social service professionals, licensed clinicians, private businesses and governmental entities who are impacted by hoarding, people who hoard, and families of people who hoard.

Our presenters will be Mark Salazar and Julian Plumadore from the Mental Health Association of San Francisco’s Hoarding Task Force as well as Dr. Robin Zasio, a nationally known talk show host, clinician and former member of the “Hoarders” TV series team.

Two self-help support groups will be established following the conference — one for people who hoard and one for their friends and families. The groups would initially be led by a paid facilitator then continue as peer led groups after the grant ends. The conference will encourage development of a local task force to address hoarding in a coordinated way.

It is estimated that between 2 and 6 percent of the population has hoarding disorder. Hoarding symptoms are almost three times more common in older adults (55-plus) than younger adults, although symptoms can appear as early as 11 to 15 years old. Symptoms tend to worsen with age, usually after a divorce, death of a spouse, family member or another personal crisis.

About 75 percent of people who hoard have a co-occurring mental health condition, the most common are major depressive disorder, social anxiety disorder/social phobia and generalized anxiety disorder. About 20 percent of people who hoard also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Severe clutter threatens the health and safety of those living in or near the home, causing health problems, structural damage, fire and even death. San Francisco Task Force on Compulsive Hoarding’s 2009 report captured actual costs due to compulsive hoarding and cluttering behaviors in San Francisco of over a million dollars a year ($1,166,105) incurred by a portion of service providers ($502,755) and landlords ($663,350).

The report noted that while they were unable to estimate costs to individuals or all identified providers and landlords, a conservative estimate of costs to providers and landlords was $6.43 million a year. While smaller than San Francisco, the costs to Humboldt County, both financial and human, are still too high.

Mental health professionals have previously viewed compulsive hoarding as a specific manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder. A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry concluded that people affected by compulsive hoarding differ from people affected by OCD in several important respects. People who hoard have a relative lack of awareness regarding the condition’s real-world impact, a greater decline in overall mental function, and an increased likelihood of having co-occurring mental health conditions.

People who hoard need professional support and time to accept the removal of their things, followed by ongoing emotional support and care after the clean-up occurs. Attempts to provide “help” by spending a day or two “cleaning it up” may trigger a traumatic emotional response and will rarely result in a successful, long term outcome.

Most people don’t understand this illness, the toll it takes on people with the disorder or that ongoing treatment and support is needed.  Unfortunately, resources do not currently exist to provide the coordinated, compassionate, dignified, and knowledgeable support these people need to move forward.

Learning about successful treatment options and creating an informed service sector to help people who hoard will result in better health and emotional outcomes, as well as cost savings. We hope this conference will reduce the stigma associated with hoarding and increase our willingness and resources to support people with the illness.

Conference brochures will be available in mid-January at and at our office at 434 Seventh St., Eureka, 95501.

Maggie Kraft is the executive director of the Area 1 Agency on Aging.