A considerable number of older Americans live in apartment homes. These include apartments that are part of more general apartment communities. They also include apartments that are part of senior living communities. Unfortunately, there are instances in which a senior citizen living in an apartment ends up afflicted with what medically is known as hoarding disorder. Among the general public, this is known more simply as hoarding.
A situation involving an elderly parent with hoarding disorder raises unique challenges when that person resides in an apartment and apartment community. A case study helps to illustrate the complications of an elderly parent with hoarding disorder who lives in an apartment community.
Background of Estelle Winthrop
Estelle Winthrop spent the bulk of her adult life with her husband in the greater Los Angeles area. Together with her devoted spouse, Estelle raised four children.
On the eve of her 50th wedding anniversary, Estelle’s husband was going to a routine dentist appointment. He parked his car and began walking across the parking lot to the dentist’s office. A car came driving into the parking lot at a particularly high rate of speed and in a most reckless manner. In the end, Estelle’s husband had no time to maneuver out of the way of the speeding automobile. He was struck by the car and died a few hours later at the hospital.
Although in her sixties when her husband was killed, Estelle had never imagined that she wouldn’t have a good many more years with the love of her life. The sudden and unnecessary death of her husband proved to be a highly traumatic event for Estelle – and understandably so.
Before moving forward with this case study, it’s important to note that at the time of her husband’s death, three key markers of the potential for hoarding disorder existed in her life:
- Older women are more prone to being diagnosed with hoarding disorder
- People who experience a traumatic event (like the sudden death of a loved one) are more prone to develop hoarding disorder
- Divorced women are at higher risk to be diagnosed with hoarding disorder
Estelle Moves Into a Retirement Community
On the plus side, Estelle has four loving, supportive children with whom she has strong relationships. Unwittingly, her four caring children took steps that added a fourth key precursor for a potential diagnosis of hoarding disorder. A couple of months after their father’s truly untimely death, Estelle’s children decided that their mother would be better off living in a retirement community than alone in her single-family home.
Estelle thought that such a move seemed wise as well. In fact, in many ways, the more to a retirement community apartment certainly did seem to check a good many boxes when it came to the best living situation for Estelle now that she was a widow.
Unbeknownst to Estelle and her children was the fact that a move of this nature can provide another underlying trigger for hoarding disorder. There is no blame to be cast about for this because this fact simply is not something a typical person would have at hand.
Hoarding Behavior Begins
The stark reality is that in Estelle’s case, the combination of the four factors enumerated a moment ago rendered her at a greater risk of vulnerability to hoarding disorder. In fact, within a couple months of her move to the retirement community apartment, Estelle began to hoard.
She lived in a two bedroom unit at the retirement community. That permitted her to accumulate “quite a lot of stuff” and pack it into the extra room. In fact, she continued to have people over to her apartment – friends, family, and fellow retirement community residents. These folks were none the wiser about what Estelle had going on in the extra room. They were unaware that Estelle was hoarding.
Hoarding Gets Out of Control
Within several more months, the hoard expanded beyond the extra room in Estelle’s retirement community apartment. When that occurred, Estelle abruptly stopped having people over to her apartment. As is the case with nearly all people with hoarding disorder, she simply did not want people to know what was going on.
For Estelle, the primary motivator for secrecy was her embarrassment and even shame associated with what was occurring in her life. There are many other hoarders who keep people from their homes because they fear that these individuals will threaten the items they have amassed through the hoarding process.
A Plan to Save Estelle
Estelle was fortunate in that she had caring people in her life, including her children. Within a very short period of time after Estelle cut off allowing people into her apartment, her children – and other people in her life – knew something was amiss. Her children conferenced with one another and decided to arrive at Estelle’s home unannounced – but also in a nonthreatening manner. On that first surprise visit, they were able to immediately identify that Estelle was hoarding.
The children reached out to a counselor who specialized in working with people with hoarding disorder. Together with the counselor, the children developed an action plan to work to protect their mother from experiencing an even more serious hoarding condition.
The children, following the lead of the counselor, had what really was an intervention with their mother. For a number of reasons, including the fact that the hoarding disorder had not progressed terribly far along, Estelle was willing to work with them to get the situation under control.
They began to slowly work to remediate and eliminate the hoard at the property. They were able to accomplish this before the situation reached a juncture at which the retirement community management elected to take action.
Significantly, Estelle began one on one counseling sessions with the professional her children involved in the situation. In fact, Estelle not only engaged in counseling sessions while the hoard itself was remediated, she continued to obtain this support into the future – including to this very day.