In what police have categorised as an “unnatural death”, a 76-year-old man was found dead in his Bedok Reservoir home, underneath trash that was piled up to the ceiling and spilling out of the flat entrance. It is not known how long he had died.
The police and Civil Defence personnel spent hours trying to gain access to the heavily-locked flat and sifting through the contents of the flat before finding the elderly man’s body.
According to neighbours, the man spent his days scavenging for what he calls “treasures” in neighbourhood rubbish bins, which he would then bring home in plastic bags. The man’s home had no running water or electricity.
Neighbours also revealed that the man’s hoarding behaviour began 10 years ago, when his wife and daughter moved out of their home.
The beginnings of a compulsive hoarder
Some hoarders may be keeping their stash for sentimental reasons or in the hopes of turning their collection into cash. Severe cases of hoarding can be attributed to compulsive-obsessive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia, though in medical terms, compulsive hoarding is recognised as a symptom of a mental illness and not a mental illness in itself. According to the website MayoClinic.com, hoarding triggers may include age, hereditary and genetic factors, social withdrawal, alcohol abuse or a stressful life event.
Most hoarders will deny or not readily acknowledge they are having a hoarding problem in the first place. Hoarders may also exhibit signs of loneliness and social isolation, which only worsen their problems. This makes managing a compulsive hoarder a complex task that requires lots of patience, and small steps.
Help for hoarders, support for families
Social interaction should be encouraged; if visitors aren’t welcome in the house, try to reconnect with friends and family outside the home, or engage in any activity that ensures the individual engages socially.
If the mess hinders daily activities like cleaning, showering or food preparation, try to clear the area (or at least move the items to a less obstructive area) so you can do these things properly.
Family members dealing with a compulsive hoarder usually cannot handle the situation by themselves — nor should they expect themselves to; there are a number of helplines and welfare organisations that hoarders and/or their families can approach. Do bear in mind that the HDB, town councils and residents’ committees can offer only limited help in these cases. Your neighbourhood Family Service Centres or the National Council of Social Services are much better equipped to offer help, and can also link you up with relevant volunteer welfare organisations that provide the eldercare services that you need.