Diogenes Syndrome AKA: Elder Hoarding

By Diane Berardi, Gerontologist

Eldercare Expert


There’s something in our human nature that causes us to want to collect things. Some collect autographs, some collect coins, stamps or other memorabilia. Collecting can be fun. But as we grow older, there’s a chance our innocent pastime can turn into something else. This week… Diane explores the darker side of collecting gone awry.


Elderly Hoarding is called “Diogenes Syndrome. A person diagnosed with Diogenes syndrome typically exhibits some, or all, of these symptoms:

  • extreme self-neglect.
  • filthy surroundings.
  • excessive hoarding.
  • denial about their situation.
  • no shame about their or lack of cleanliness.
  • refusal of support or help.


According to University of Kansas Professor Dr. David Ekerdt, getting rid of stuff is actually a two-step process: sorting and deciding, on the one hand, and disposing on the other. But convincing seniors can be a challenge.

Katherine “Kit” Anderson, CPO-CD, president of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD), and Vickie Dellaquila, certified professional organizer suggest the following are strategies to help those reluctant-to-toss aging parents let things go:


  1. Arrange And Cheer Small Victories. 
    Suppose you spend a short time helping your aging parent clear off a table. Celebrate the accomplishment together.


  1. Conduct An “Experiment.” 
    If your aging parent has 150 empty margarine tub containers, suggest donating 15 of those to a school for a painting project. Allow some time to go by and ask how she felt giving those up. Chances are she won’t feel as awful as suspected.



  1. Gently Approach The Idea Of Health And Safety. 
    Remind your aging parents that too much clutter can actually keep them from being safe in their homes, which could jeopardize their ability to stay at home. They could trip over papers on the floor or lose bills and medications.


  1. Draft An Agreement. 
    Agree to box up unused clothing or tools. Carefully list what’s in the box and track that for six months. If your aging parent does not use the items in that time, suggest they donate them to a charity.



  1. Consider The Control Issue. 
    Clutter is all about control, but so is being the one to decide where stuff goes. Remind your aging parents if they don’t decide where something will go, someone else will.


For more information, contact the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD) at www.nsgcd.org.


For tips on talking to an aging parent about sensitive subjects, go to parentsarehardtoraise.org


If you notice these characteristics about your aging parents or their homes, clutter could start creeping up on them.

  1. Piles of mail and unpaid bills.
  2. Difficulty walking safely through a home.
  3. Frustration trying to organize.
  4. Difficulty managing activities of daily living.
  5. Expired food in the refrigerator.
  6. Jammed closets and drawers.
  7. Compulsive shopping.
  8. Difficulty deciding whether to discard items.
  9. A health episode such as a stroke or dementia.
  10. Loneliness.