Over the course of our lives, we accumulate many things that come to be imbued with meaning and memories that we hold dear. Our belongings can be deeply important to us, but it is also possible to take the collection and acquisition of objects too far. Diogenes Syndrome, also referred to as Senile Squalor Syndrome, is a behavioural disorder experienced by some seniors that results in hoarding, lifestyle, and cleanliness behaviours that can be harmful to health. Maintaining an awareness of the potential behaviours associated with Diogenes Syndrome, as well as the ways in which to address the safety concerns with which it can be associated, can help to keep the seniors of the Ottawa area safe and healthy.
The culmination of multiple biological, environmental, and situational elements of old age mean that many seniors are more prone to engaging in hoarding and other behaviours associated with Diogenes Syndrome. From a physiological standpoint some health conditions, such as dementia and impairment of the brain’s frontal lobe, can contribute to hoarding behaviours, as can genetic predispositions. Alternatively, other factors such as traumatic events, feelings of isolation, lack of stimulation, and elements involved in the living of day-to-day life, can create or exacerbate these behaviours.
Behaviours Associated with Diogenes Syndrome
Diogenes Syndrome can be manifested in varying ways, degrees, and levels of severity depending on the personal circumstances of the individual. Some of the negative behaviours that exist as symptoms of Diogenes Syndrome may include:
- Neglect of Self-Care
- Social Withdrawal
- Lack of Shame
- Distrust of Others
- Compulsive Hoarding of Items/Objects
- Domestic Uncleanliness
- Distorted Sense of Reality
- Unwillingness to Accept Help
Cleaning Up and Clearing Out
For seniors remaining within their homes, a safe, clear, and clean environment is absolutely imperative to the promotion and maintenance of health and wellbeing. Regardless of whether a senior just has a few too many collected or accumulated items and belongings, or they have an extreme case of Diogenes Syndrome, it is important to work towards cleaning up, clearing things out, and creating a safe space for seniors to reside in. Working through someone’s belongings deciding what to keep, what to toss, and how to arrange the items that are to remain, can be a challenging task under any circumstances. Here are some strategies that may help to make the process a little easier:
- Make Time: Decide how best to manage time to get through everything that needs to be done. Whether you prefer to set one day and tackle everything at once, or if breaking it up into smaller chunks over multiple days would be better; set a deadline, make a plan, and get organized.
- Get Help: Especially in cases where seniors have acquired an immense amount of items within their homes, clearing through all the clutter can be too overwhelming a job for one person to handle. Try enlisting family or friends to work together as a team to get through more or delegate tasks to create efficiency.
- Organize Systematically: Creating and devising a consistent system or decision making process for each item can help to make the process more seamless, and help keep the physical space more organized. Having specific categories or piles for items such as ‘keep’, ‘trash’, ‘donate’, and ‘store’, as well as criteria by which to judge which category an item will end up in will be a huge help.
- Go Room by Room: Look at the task in smaller parts, rather than as a whole, in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Think of each room as independent from the others, beginning with one and not moving on to another until its work has been completed. This will not only help to create natural breaking points, but will also make progress more visible and, therefore, more easy to celebrate.
- Get Clean and Set Up: Once clutter and hoarded items have been dealt with, take the opportunity as a fresh start to get everything clean, and set up the home in a way that will be most conducive to senior health.
As a result of the inherent nature of Diogenes Syndrome, the process of trying to make seniors understand the situation and the need for change is a difficult one. It is important to remember, amidst the challenges, that while the process will undoubtedly be difficult and the upkeep will take attention, all of the effort is in pursuit of creating a safer and cleaner environment in which seniors can conduct their lives.