There are messy houses and there are really messy houses. And the astoundingly messy ones could well be the residences of compulsive hoarders.
It seems psychiatrists and behavioral scientists are now taking a closer look at household clutter and finding that the more extreme examples can be related to depression, attention deficit disorder, emotional trauma, brain injury or other psychological disorders.
Compulsive hoarding is on its way to being classified as a mental illness, but at present the psychiatric community does not consider it as such, even though it’s been estimated that at least 1.5 million Americans suffer from it. It’s defined as clutter so extreme that it overtakes living, dining and sleeping spaces to the extent it damages or impairs quality of life.
To learn more about hoarding, Dr. David F. Tolin, an associate profession of psychiatry at Yale, recently did brain scans on persons suffering from hoarding. While in the MRI, hoarders were shown possessions and told to choose to keep them or to throw them away. If they chose to discard them, the items were shredded right in front of them. Researchers soon noticed that at the point of making the decision, a hoarder’s orbitofrontal cortex freaked out.
“That part of the brain seemed to be stressed to the max,” Tolin told the Associated Press, whereas people who are not hoarders showed no such brain activity when told to make the choice.
Tolin and other researchers say that more storage bins and boxes aren’t going to help the hoarder. “Such things are based on the concept that this (excessive clutter) is a house problem,” Tolin said. “It isn’t a house problem. It’s a person problem. The person needs to fundamentally change behavior.”
The goal of the new research is to help determine how compulsive hoarding works and how to enable the change is its sufferers.
[Coincidently, this topic is the intersection of two of my recent posts: the one about the horrors of “spring cleaning” in colonial times on March 16 and the one about neuroscientists studying “the brain and creativity” on March 23.]