116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Hoarding a growing problem in East Iowa
Mar. 5, 2011 3:01 pm
“It just seems like more and more of our clients have an issue with hoarding,” said Michele Baughan, care connections director for The Heritage Agency on Aging in Cedar Rapids.
Defined as collecting or failing to dispose of worthless items to the extent it causes stress, most often in the inability to use rooms for their intended purpose, serious hoarding may be present in as many as 2 percent of the population, according to the International OCD Foundation.
“It's not just messiness,” said Nancee Blum, adjunct faculty member at the University of Iowa's Carver College of Medicine psychiatry department. “The behavior causes significant stress or impairment in functioning.”
Hoarding was considered for years to be a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but the psychiatric profession is revising its diagnostic manual to separate the two, said Blum.
“The vast majority of hoarders do not have other symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder,” she said.
Animal control officers removed 32 dogs, two cats and a parrot from the home of a Cedar Rapids woman Feb. 17 in what may be a case of animal hoarding. If charges are filed in the incident it would be the third time since 1997 the woman has been cited for having too many animals.
“We know that the recidivism rate is quite high” for hoarders, said Blum. “The person themselves has to realize this is a problem, and it's their problem.”
Treatment often means isolation and depression, two conditions that often accompany hoarding.
“It's hard to know which came first,” said Blum. “Was the person always a loner who developed this kind of behavior, or was it this kind of behavior that contributed (to their isolation)?”
Baughan said Heritage has arranged to rent Dumpsters and organize volunteers to help clear hoarders' homes, a practice that may end due to budget cuts.
“There's not always something we can do,” she said. “We can't make a grown adult behave differently.”
Unlike most other types, animal hoarding can be addressed legally. But limited resources, especially in rural areas, mean it's up to neighbors or family members to report such cases.
“We certainly don't have the resources to go out there and find it,” said Zach Melton, executive director of the Cedar Valley Humane Society. The non-profit provides animal control services in Linn County outside Cedar Rapids and Marion.
“We'll get people that call and say ‘I'm worried about so-and-so,'” Melton said. “We may follow up with the sheriff's department or the police chief, but it becomes not something we can control.”
“When this problem gets out of hand, these people are often charged with animal cruelty but certainly that does not appear to be the initial motivation,” said Blum. “The person themselves doesn't seem to be aware of the fact that they are unable to provide the minimum amount of care.”
People adopting animals through the Cedar Valley Humane Society sign a form stating the number of animals they have and granting the agency access to their home, an effort that depends on the adopter's cooperation.
“Not many people are going to write they have 30 cats in their house,” Melton said.
Building inspectors, utility workers, and repairmen are often the first to note hoarding, Blum said. Baughan said Heritage's own staff members have encountered hoarders in the course of other work.
“They've applied for a benefit and we go out there to help them enroll, and (staff) notice it,” she said.
Hoarders tend to be older, but that may be simply because the problem becomes more apparent as time passes.
“With older adults, it's certainly easier to become a hoarder,” said Baughan. “Think how hard it is for you to clean out your garage every year, and having any barrier to that.”
“Dementia and hoarding are the only two disorders that get worse with age,” said Blum. “A lot of times it doesn't come to someone's attention until there's some kind of crisis.”