How do I keep my hoarding mother safe?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother is a widow of two years. She does not bathe, or care for herself. She has a large dog that she keeps caged in the kitchen. She is a hoarder and is traumatized every time I try to clean her house. The dog feces are all over her kitchen floor. I clean it up after a battle of wills.

I have to work every day, and have a married daughter will chronic kidney disease with a 6 year old. I try to help both my mother and my daughter and still work full time. I have to work.

My mother won't even let me throw a faded plastic flower away. I don't know what to do. I don't want to put my mother in a nursing home. I feel that she isn't safe. I tried to get a woman to come help her, but that didn't work. She won't get Meals for Seniors, so I take her food. She doesn't eat properly, she eats cookies. I wanted to buy a trailer for her to live in beside me, and she says I'm staying in my own home. Where can I get someone to give me more options. I am very worried about my mothers safety.

Expert Answer

Kay Paggi, GCM, LPC, CGC, MA, is in private practice as a geriatric care manager and is on the advisory board for the Emeritus Program at Richland College. She has worked with seniors for nearly 20 years as a licensed professional counselor, certified gerontological counselor, and certified geriatric care manager.

Trying to keep a frail aging parent safe when they are not able to manage on their own, and do not recognize the danger of the way they are living, is an impossible task. Ultimately you will fail because there are too many things that can go wrong.

You need to work to maintain yourself. You are assisting your adult child who is unwell and has a dependent child. You are trying to keep food in your mother's house, keep it clean, and help her remain in a separate place, all this while she is hoarding. This is a lot for one person to accomplish.

Hoarding is usually part of an anxiety disorder. Keeping items helps calm the anxiety, and having them taken away increases the panic. When you clean your mother's house, you take things away, and that raises her anxiety level.

Your mother has you doing exactly what she wants you to do. You clean her house, provide her with home cooked meals, and allow her to keep her dog and her house. She has no reason to make any change in her behavior. The likelihood is that your mother is not able to make beneficial changes that will allow her to break out of her living situation on her own. You will have to arrange changes that put her in a safer environment, or else continue the current situation until a crisis forces a change.

Moving her in with you will not solve any of the problems. She will hoard in your house. She needs to be in a care facility that will keep her clean, prepare her meals, and provide access to a mental health physician that can relieve her anxiety. I understand that you do not want this. Neither do you want the situation to continue as it is. The right thing to do is to find the solution that does the most good for the most people, and implement that. Placing your mother is a care facility is good for her physically, good for your peace of mind and your health, and good for your daughter and her child.