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Compulsive Hoarding Poses Safety and Psychological Risks
Date:3/9/2009

U-M experts say hoarding can be treated with therapy if subjects are willing and motivated

ANN ARBOR, Mich., March 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Even though Elizabeth Nelson was raised in an upper-middle class suburb, she felt a deep sense of shame about her living conditions growing up.

The spacious basement where she rode her Big Wheel at age 3 was filled to the brim by the time she was 8.

As years went by, the home's empty spaces disappeared, replaced with clutter.

She was so used to piles, it took Nelson years to realize her mom's compulsion to collect and save was a psychiatric condition. She recounts a visit to her parents' home as an adult.

"My dad was using portable urinals in the living room because my mother had blocked his access to the bathroom," Nelson says. "I got really concerned."

Nelson searched the Web and read about hoarding. Someone who hoards collects items with limited or no value, such as newspapers and trash, and then is unable to discard them, she learned. Entire rooms become filled with clutter and homes are left with narrow pathways to walk through.

People who engage in hoarding put themselves and neighbors in danger, say experts at the University of Michigan Health System. Their living conditions can present a fire hazard and are often unsanitary and unsafe. Hoarders face the real prospect of becoming buried under an avalanche of trash. Treating hoarding is difficult because people who suffer from it often don't see the squalor they live in as a problem.

"We all collect, we all save," says James L. Abelson, M.D., Ph.D., an anxiety disorders expert in the U-M Department of Psychiatry. "We apply the term 'hoard' when it's a more extreme version of acquiring and not discarding."

It is believed hoarding afflicts one- to one-and-a-half million people in the United St
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SOURCE University of Michigan Health System
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