How do I keep my hoarding mother safe?

3 answers | Last updated: Oct 26, 2016
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 Answers

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.

Community Answers

Ryannmcgrath answered...

As difficult as this is going to be..You need to consider contacting Social Services..They need to come out and look at this situation..They have the means and power to take over and place Mom in a safe place, it is for her own best interest.. She may only need correct medications to help her.. Though you are her child, you have no right to allow her to live like this, you need to find the strength to let go, and get her help.. As far as the dog, you know this is not fair and healthy for him either..Call Animal control as well.

A fellow caregiver answered...

None of these above solutions work. I am living this. My mother hoards cat feces, years of cat feces, so that it is more than ankle deep throughout the house. I have called social services. They contact her and humiliate her and tell me, sorry, there's nothing that can be done.

I live in a different state & swore I would never clean up her mess again in 2003. she fell & broke her back, still saying she's fine. I came to help her with her broken back & found her in kidney failure. She would have been dead.

she spent a week in the hospital, then another week in a nursing home as a charity case because her home is uninhabitable. Finally they gave her cognitive testing, which she passed with flying colors. Basically, until your mom is proven to be mentally incompetent, you can do absolutely nothing. the social worker put it to me like this: it's like a teenager who you cannot control, you have to let it go. If she wants to self-neglect, that is her right.

It's heart wrenching. Your mom doesn't have the right to force you to be her slave forever. I finally gave my mom an ultimatum & said if she goes back to that house, we are done because she will be dead in a month.

You can try to go to court to get guardianship/conservatorship, but that's very expensive. You not only have to hire yourself an attorney, you have to hire an attorney for her. You cannot go to court for this without an attorney, at least in my state.

good luck! You are not alone, I understand your troubles. Tough love I think is about the only answer. I've made it clear to my mother that I'm tired of her choosing cat poop over her only child, only family left.