COLUMBUS, Ohio –
Hoarding is not just entertainment for a reality show. It is a diagnosis, and in at least one incident, it had deadly consequences. Sunday, James Shields, who uses a wheelchair and lived by himself, died in a fire on 20th Avenue in the North Linden area.
“It appears to be that he was a hoarder, so there was all kinds of furniture and papers from the floor all the way to the ceiling we couldn’t even get into the second floor it was so bad,” said Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Doug Smith.
Not only did that impede any rescue attempt, but Smith said it literally added fuel to the fire.
Last October, three elderly Franklinton brothers guided county officials through their home after the city told them they had to leave because the house was too unsanitary and the hoarding made it difficult to move from room to room.
Fred, 71, Harry, 68, and Chris Klein, 59, lived and slept downstairs.
“I slept right there,” Harry said, pointing to a couch on the first floor.
The Klein brothers inherited the home from their parents and lived there all their lives. Their sister, Mary McConnehe, lives next door and took her three brothers in until the city could decide what to do with their home.
According to a psychiatrist and medical director of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health board (ADAMH,) hoarding is its own diagnosis.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states on their website that hoarding is the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. Commonly hoarded items may be newspaper, magazines, paper and plastic bags, cardboard boxes, photographs, household supplies, food and clothing.
In Shields’ house fire, Smith said, “not only did those items impede any rescue attempt, but it literally added fuel to the fire.”
“In the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Hoarding Disorder is listed as its own diagnosis. It was previously considered a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, or when extreme, a symptom of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,” said Dr. Delaney Smith, medical director of ADAMH. “People with hoarding disorder experience distress if they discard possessions. Most people who hoard animals also hoard inanimate objects. About three-quarters of individuals with hoarding disorder also meet diagnostic criteria for another mood or anxiety disorder such as depression or social anxiety and about one-fifth for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.”
Why do people hoard?
“We do not know what causes hoarding,” said Smith. “There are some risk factors including indecisiveness; suffering stressful and traumatic life events before the hoarding started and other family members who hoard.” The hallmark of the hoarding behavior is procuring or keeping items that do not have a real value,” she said.
Is hoarding a growing problem for people and families?
“I think it is growing in people’s awareness of the issue,” said Dr. Smith.
Spokesman and Columbus Battalion Fire Chief Pat Ferguson said his department is not seeing an epidemic of hoarding when either medics or firefighters respond to emergencies, but it happens more often than he would like.