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Hoarding can Endanger Lives, Says New Study

A new study has revealed that hoarders have a brain disorder resulting in an all-consuming compulsion to collect that often cuts them off from society and damages their relationships.

A sub-type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, hoarding is the compulsion to collect and store items considered by most people to be worthless or useless. Little is known about what causes hoarding, but like many mental disorders, it is believed in part to have a genetic cause. In some cases, a loss or other significant life event can trigger hoarding behaviour. Hoarding behaviour may also be present in persons with dementia

In severe cases, clutter can get so out of control it can endanger lives-as in the case of a Houston woman who died in a 2006 fire because her clutter-filled home hindered firefighters' efforts to rescue her.

"Hoarding is different from being disorganized or not prioritizing," said John Hart, LCPC, a behaviour therapist with the Menninger Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders Treatment Program who treats patients who hoard.

"If there is a pathological accumulation of stuff in their home, then something has gone pretty desperately wrong," Hart added.

The motivation driving the compulsion to hoard varies among persons with the behavior. Some persons who hoard receive pleasure out of collecting items they want, for example a person who loves to shop sales. Even when their purchases begin to overtake their house, they may not think they have a problem.

"Friends and family may see the hoarding as a bigger problem than the person who hoards. They come to visit and there is no place to sit down because of all the clutter," Hart said.

Other persons who hoard may feel they have no control over their behavior, for example, they feel they must hold on to every piece of mail with their names on it, in case they need it some day, or out of fear of someone using that information against the
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