Entries in Hoarding (5)


Study Shows Hoarding Separate from OCD

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Psychologists have classified hoarding disorder as a type of OCD for years, but new brain imaging research shows that information is, well, garbage.

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that patients with hoarding disorder show different brain activity during decision making than patients with OCD, pinpointing a biological distinction between the two disorders for the first time.

"A hoarder is not a pack rat. A hoarder is not a slob. A hoarder is not lazy," Dr. Jeff Szymanski, the executive director of the International OCD Foundation, told ABC News after he read the study. "A part of their brain doesn't work the way your brain works."

Dr. David Tolin and his team at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., used brain imaging (fMRI) to test how 107 people reacted when asked whether they wanted to keep a piece of junk mail or discard it. Sometimes, it was junk mail that belonged to the patient, and sometimes, it belonged to someone else. Forty-three participants had hoarding disorder and another 31 had OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder, according to the study.

When the junk mail had a hoarding patient's name on it, certain parts of that patient's brain lit up, showing "abnormal activity" in the decision-making regions (the anterior cingulated cortex and the insula), according to the study. When the mail listed someone else's name, the same parts of the hoarder's brain were abnormally quiet.

Only hoarding patients showed this kind of activity, Tolin said. OCD patients did not.

"It's a very clean, well-done study," Szymanski said.

Tolin told ABC News he and his colleagues embarked on the study because they were dissatisfied with the idea that hoarding was part of OCD and should be treated that way.

"The more that we got to know people who hoard …they didn't really resemble people with OCD all that much," he said. "The more basic information you know about a particular disorder, the better equipped you're going to be."

Szymanski said the brain imaging study could mean that hoarders are not treatment-resistant, as doctors originally suspected; they were just being treated for the wrong disorder because they were being treated for OCD. He said the study illustrates why exposure-based therapy, in which therapists help OCD patients deal with fear by exposing them to things that cause anxiety, doesn't work for hoarders.

"Danger isn't really what's going on with hoarders," he said, explaining that if it was, a different region of the brain would light up. "We need to teach them how to properly and effectively categorize … You think hoarding is about piles and piles of garbage, but it's not about piles and piles of garbage. It's about how that person doesn't have the proper decision-making skills or the proper prioritizing skills."

Szymanski said the study comes just as the American Psychiatric Association debates whether to separate hoarding disorder from OCD in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The "DSM," as they call it, is the guide psychiatrists and psychologists use to diagnose their patients.

He said the separation of hoarding and OCD is likely, but not definite. The newest edition will come out next year.

Tolin said the study also shows why people with hoarding disorder don't seem to grasp the gravity of their problem: When they have to face a decision that isn't meaningful to them, they have significantly "underpowered" activity in the decision-making part of the brain.

"These regions of the brain are part of what makes you bothered by it," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hoarder Buries Himself in Atari Games and Bobble Heads

Courtesy of Lee Shuer(EASTHAMPTON, Mass.) -- Lee Shuer's hoarding began a decade ago as he began collecting Atari video games, then progressed to vintage art work and musical instruments.

But soon, his apartment was overflowing with bobble heads, collectibles and anything he could get "free or [a] good deal [on]."

"It got to the point where more is better," said Shuer, now 37, of Easthampton, Mass.  "Eventually, they spilled off the shelves, onto the floor, down the hall, into the bedroom, off the bed -- you could see the tide flow."

Shuer's acquisitions became part of his identity and self-esteem.

"If I had more fun and more toys, people might actually like me," he said.  "If I had enough things to play with, they might come hang out."

When he finally met his future wife and they had to clean out the clutter to move in to a new home, she was horrified by the volume of things and begged him to call for help.

Shuer did, and this week he is one of the key presenters at the 14th Annual Hoarding and Cluttering Conference, sponsored by the San Francisco Mental Health Association.  There, both clinicians and hoarders will attend an array of workshops on best practices and new treatments.

"I give my wife a lot of credit," he told ABC News.  "If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be talking to you now."

After participating in a study at Smith College in 2005 with pioneering hoarding expert Randy O. Frost, Shuer joined a hoarding task force and began to help others.

"Hoarding has been around a long time, all the way back to the 14th century," said Frost, psychology professor and co-author of the 2011 book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.

Frost identified the three features of hoarding: excessive acquisition, difficulty discarding and disorganization.  He developed the "Buried in Treasures" self-help program that gave Shuer his life back.

Compulsive hoarding is strongly associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a condition that affects about four million Americans, according to the OCD Foundation.  About 25 to 40 percent of those with OCD have hoarding symptoms.

Psychiatrists are now hopeful that hoarding will get its own category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V this year, distinguishing it from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Nearly Half of Children of Hoarders Fight Guilt, Depression

Little sad girl (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)(NEW YORK) -- Life as a teenager is often chaotic and confusing. When the home — usually the most controllable, supportive place in teens’ lives — is bursting with piles of clutter, it can get downright overwhelming. And the fear that your family’s dirty secret will be revealed can stay with you for a lifetime.

There are estimated to be millions of  hoarders in the United States. Their families suffer along with them. Children of hoarders say it’s difficult for others to understand the weirdness of growing up this way, with parents who seem to love their junk more than their children.

And, strangely, the children often feel that they’re to blame. According to a recent survey by psychologist Dr. Suzanne Chabaud, almost half of the adult children of hoarders suffer from feelings of guilt and shame and are frequently depressed.

It’s no wonder. They spent childhoods haunted by very real fears of the house burning down or of getting sick from rats, cockroaches, fleas or mold. They were worried about smelling funny at school, having no friends — even being taken from their parents by authorities.

Adult children of hoarders say while it’s hard to let go of these feelings, children of hoarders should see that it is not your fault, put your needs first and remember that life gets better after you leave home.

Take Jessie Sholl, one of several adult children of hoarders 20/20 spoke with. Sholl, now in her early 40s, gets a thrill from throwing away an empty shampoo bottle. Paige, another, is no longer afraid to bring friends home.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'My Collection Obsession': One Man's Collector Is Another's Hoarder

Michael Blann/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Marilyn Mansfield, a sometimes-model and mother of three, loves to cradle her new babies, supporting their heads and holding them close to her maternal bosom -- all 500 of them.

The Staten Island, N.Y., 33-year-old collects custom-made dolls that cost as much as $1,000 each. One even has birthmarks and spit bubbles, and the latest lifelike doll even breathes.

"I like flaws on my babies," says Mansfield in a new documentary, My Collection Obsession, which airs on Sunday, Aug. 21 on TLC at 10 p.m. "Humans are not perfect."

Mansfield's dolls fill her three-bedroom apartment on shelves and in their little seats and cradles.

She has even discussed her last wishes with her husband if she should die.

"My daughter has told me which ones she would want and two or three I want to go with friends," Mansfield said. "I know this sounds morbid, but I would definitely like to be buried with them."

Mansfield is one of three other collectors who have taken their hobbies to extremes. Darlene has 15,000 pieces of shoe-related memorabilia. Kyle, who is only 16, has been obsessed with vacuum cleaners since he was only a toddler.

One man's collector is another man's hoarder, but experts say that there are key differences.

"With hoarding, we look at three main behaviors: one acquiring too many possessions; second, having great difficulty discarding something; and three difficulty organizing," said Julie Pike, a clinical psychologist from the Anxiety Disorder Treatment Center in Durham, N.C. "But there is a lot of overlap." She is featured on TLC's reality show, Hoarding: Buried Alive.

Unlike hoarders, collectors are usually well-organized and know exactly where each item is and what they have. They are also proud, not ashamed, of their possessions, she said.

"But if collectors get in a place where they are spending so much money that they can't pay their mortgage, that's a problem," Pike said. "Or if they are spending so much time at it that they can't go to their job or leave their house."

Viewers will have to decide for themselves about Kyle Kirchbaum of Michigan, the youngest of only 200 vacuum cleaner collectors in the world. His sister thinks he's "weird" going to yard sales to find vacuum cleaners that have piled up around their house. His mother has told him that when he goes to college, "the vacuum cleaners have to go."

As for collector Mansfield, she said her house is neat, even with wall-to-wall dolls.

"If I ever got to the point where I was a hoarder, then I wouldn't buy them anymore," she said. "If I get a new one, I am sure there's a spot for them."

Mansfield said she has loved dolls since she was a child and views her obsession and her collection as "a work of art." She even treats her dolls like her own children, spending three hours each day, washing them, dressing them and even taking them to the park.

"In fact, when she gets a new doll, it's like she's actually pregnant," said her husband Zoth. "What will it be, where will I put her?"

Her favorite is Anna Nicole, a 43-inch doll that is the size of a 5-year-old that she bought for more than $1,000 in Texas. She has about 20 of these realistic "reborn," which are handmade. She even took her to the store and spent $70 on a pair of shoes after taking her to the playground.

Mansfield said she couldn't estimate what she has spent -- "definitely in the thousands," she said. "I buy them clothes and carriages."

Her youngest daughter likes the dolls, but her son is unimpressed. Her husband, on the other hand, is totally supportive and said it gives him more free time.

For Mansfield, the dolls are just another part of her maternal nature. "When you see a doll, your instinct is to hold it like a baby," she said. "I watch TV and hold one. It's very soothing and calming."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Surviving a Filthy Childhood: Daughter of Hoarder Comes Clean

Jesse Scholl(MINNEAPOLIS) -- When Jessie Sholl visits her childhood home in Minneapolis, Minn., she doesn't actually go inside. In fact, she never even makes it past the front steps.

"I feel nervous right now," she told 20/20 as she stood by the house's front door recently. "My muscles are a little bit tense, like I need to be prepared to possibly run."

Sholl, 42, was there to visit her mother, who is a hoarder. A psychological disorder, hoarding is characterized by the excessive collection of items paired with the inability to throw things out, as well as problems with organization. It is considered both prevalent and difficult to treat. According to Dr. Randy Frost, author of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, there are an estimated 6 million to 15 million hoarders in the U.S.

But it's not only victims of the disorder who are affected, it's their children, too. Sholl grew up in a home overwhelmed with piles of moth-eaten sweaters, dirty paper plates and other junk.

Sholl, whose parents are divorced, moved in with her father, but could not stop her growing fixation with helping her mother dig out.

Her attempts to help her mother not only put a strain on their relationship, but also her health: during clean-ups at her mother's house, Sholl twice contracted scabies, a parasite that lives under the skin.

"The itch that comes from scabies, it's just unreal," she said. "It was at that point that I just said, 'I'm done. I'm not helping you anymore.'"

Dr. Suzanne Chabaud, a licensed psychologist who studies children of hoarders and has appeared on the A&E show Hoarders, explained the effects of hoarding to 20/20's Elizabeth Vargas.

"It's extremely stressful," Chabaud said. "And the more severe the hoard and the earlier it starts in the child's life, the more distress they're going to suffer."

Sholl says she and her mother now have a closer relationship because she no longer tries to clean up her mother's mess.

"Now our relationship is much better, because it's not me trying to fix her," she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio