From Messy to Filthy: The Health Risks of Hoarding
When hoarding clutter becomes gross filth this is a sign that a hoarder has lost control.
It’s normal for every human to have a little clutter they’ve collected over the years of their life — tucked out of sight in a hallway closet, under a guest bedroom bed or in a corner of the attic. But hoarders are on another level altogether. They have such an accumulation of clutter that it has begun to take over their home or life.
And when this happens, hoarding often spirals into a gross filth situation, a situation that quickly becomes detrimental to the physical health and well-being of the hoarder and all who love or live with them.
When a hoarder lives surrounded by gross filth, their hoarding can literally cause health problems if the situation is not addressed.
But, how do you know when it has reached that point, and what exactly are the health risks of hoarding?
When Hoarding Becomes Gross Filth
Hoarding is a complex issue and much deeper than the accumulated piles of stuff you might find in a hoarding house. The Mayo Clinic defines “hoarding disorder” as a “persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them.” There are levels of hoarding that can range from mild to severe.
When a hoarding situation reaches a severe level, a build-up of clutter may fill some rooms to the point that they are unusable. Clutter may block walking spaces and living areas, making some spaces unsafe or unusable for their intended purposes such as cooking in the kitchen or bathing in the bathroom. Garbage, trash or old food might be strewn about. Some of the clutter may have spilled over to the porch or even the yard.
But though these situations sound dirty, there are much more dangerous and serious issues at play here.
When a hoarding situation has become gross filth, there may be mold or mildew present in the home. Pests attracted by spoiled and improperly discarded food may also have infiltrated the space. The structural integrity of the home itself may be in question, as home repairs are often neglected and pests like rodents or termites cause secret destruction.
A few of the hoarding hazards that Alabama Bio-Clean Inc.’s, technicians encounter conducting gross filth cleanups include:
- Human and animal waste
- Bodily fluids (blood, urine, vomit, etc.)
- Mold and mildew
- Food bacteria
- Fleas, fruit flies, termites or other insects
- Sewage backups
- Animal carcasses
- Home structural damage caused by neglect or infestation
Hoarding at a severe level is not only dangerous to the hoarder, but also to others who enter the home including family members, firemen, law enforcement, medical professionals or standard deep cleaning crews who are not trained in how to properly manage gross filth situations created by hoarding, nor are they aware of the underlying health risks of hoarding.
4 Main Health Risks of Hoarding and Living in Gross Filth
People with hoarding disorder may not see it as a problem, but severe hoarding can put them (and others) at serious risk of health problems, injury or even death. If you or a loved one suffer from hoarding disorder, it’s imperative that you speak with a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible.
In residences or properties that suffer from gross filth, you’ll find the presence of harmful pathogens, allergens or other viral and bacterial hazards that could compromise the health of people (and animals) that are exposed to that environment.
Here are four of the main health risks of hoarding and living in gross filth.
- Diseases. There are a number of diseases that can be attributed to living in gross filth. Human or animal waste present in the space could contain hepatitis, tuberculosis, E. coli or pinworm. This, along with clutter, bad odors, high ammonia levels from accumulations of urine and feces, dust and other garbage, can cause mold or infestations and, over time, create poor air quality, resulting in respiratory illnesses.
For older adults, one 2017 study found hoarding disorder to be associated with an increased risk for chronic and severe medical conditions such as arthritis, hypertension, chronic stomach and gall bladder problems, diabetes, stroke, seizures, sleep apnea and obesity, among others.
- Falls or Accidents. With so much stuff lying about, overtaking hallways, walkways and doorways, it’s only a matter of time before an accident happens. Excessive clutter blocks exits to a home and limits mobility. Tripping over clutter and falling (depending on what you fall into) could be cause for broken bones or worse. This situation could immediately become hazardous to the elderly and disabled, and since hoarding gets worse with age, this is why falling tends to be one of the main health risks of hoarding.
- Infestation. Rodents, fleas, bed bugs, termites and cockroaches are just a few of the pests that could call a hoarding house turned gross-filth-environment home, and they each pose their own type of health risks.
For example, cockroaches can be an allergy trigger. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, cockroach saliva, feces and body parts can trigger both asthma and allergies. Cockroach allergens act like dust mites, aggravating symptoms when they are kicked up in the air.
Pests can eat away materials like wood, drywall or fabric, while their excrement can cause the deterioration of wood, fabric and other materials in a home.
- Fire Hazard. Clutter blocking doorways and windows makes leaving a home very difficult. Paper, boxes and piles of clothing — typical items found throughout hoarding homes — are extremely flammable and could add fuel to any house fire. Not only does this create an environment where the hoarder might not be able to escape their home easily, but it also means first responders or firefighters could have trouble entering the home to rescue the occupants.
Dos and Don’ts for Helping a Hoarder Living in Gross Filth
It’s important to remember that hoarding disorder is complex and caused by different issues. People with hoarding disorder may also have other mental health disorders like anxiety, depression or substance abuse disorders. Knowing how to talk to a hoarder can be challenging, but there are a few “dos and don’ts” you might find helpful.
DO: Educate yourself on hoarding. Focus on the person and not the stuff, and truly listen and empathize with them. Recognize small victories, like when they take a tiny step in a positive direction. Volunteer to help sort or clean their home (with permission), and encourage them to seek professional help.
DON’T: Never touch a hoarder’s belongings without permission, and don’t judge. Don’t expect a quick clean-up — it’s a process that takes time. Don’t enable them by giving them gifts or volunteering to store items for them. Don’t expect perfection; gradual changes can be effective and valuable.
How Alabama Bio-Clean, Inc., Cleans Up Hoarding and Gross Filth
Anyone working in a hoarding or gross filth environment should be properly equipped and trained to handle biohazardous materials. As a biohazard company often tasked with cleaning up gross filth in Alabama, often via hoarding situations, our technicians could be exposed to a variety of diseases onsite. At all times, we are attired in personal protective gear that meets OSHA standards. These might include biohazard suits, heavy exposure gloves, heavy-duty footwear and caps, and a disposable mask or full-face respirator.
Because of the sanitary, structural, and health risks of hoarding at the severe level, it is important to hire trained technicians to clean up gross filth, technicians who are sensitive to the situation and respectful of the hoarder and all involved.
At Alabama Bio-Clean, Inc., our technicians are skilled in ensuring the cleanup process does not make a hoarder feel more isolated, embarrassed, judged or stressed about their situation. Our goal is to create a healthy living environment for our clients, one where garbage, pests, and human and animal waste have been removed, the area is properly disinfected and safe for occupation once again.
No one plans to become a hoarder living in gross filth. With the right kind of support from loved ones, professional medical help and a compassionate cleaning crew, a person who hoards can return to a life filled with the satisfaction of living for something other than objects, inside their safe and newly restored home.