How can my family help my hoarding Grandmother?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My Grandmother has been a widow for a long time and since then had moved in with my Great-Grandmother to help her out. In 2002, my Great-Grandmother passed away and since then my Grandmother has started to accumulate things in her house. Last year, my Mom and I were talking and we realized that no one had been in her house for over a year and she tries every trick in the book to keep us out. Recently, she fell and broke her shoulder and has been staying at our house. She will not let anyone into her house to get her clothes or anything but sent us to the store to buy more. We finally had to sneak into her house and what we saw was sickening. There was so much trash piled up throughout her home that you cannot get anywhere except the bathroom a bedroom and the kitchen table. The rest of the house (including a 3 car garage) is full and we are really worried about the living conditions. We also know that she will be really upset when we tell her what we have seen and we don't know how to help her. I know if someone were to come to her house they would make her leave it immediately. Please help.

Expert Answer

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

Dear Granddaughter:

I'm sorry you're dealing with such a difficult problem regarding your grandmother.

What you've described, however, is not an issue initially concerning care, but one about her mental condition.

Your grandmother has begun hoarding, and from your description, seems to be showing signs of either mental illness, dementia or other possible physical or emotional problems.

Your first step may be to call your local Adult Protective Services and have them move your grandmother from her home to be properly medically evaluated, and then to have her home made clean, safe and healthy if she is ultimately allowed to return. Her refusal to leave her home may require that she be Baker Acted, which will force her into a 72-hour hold in a facility where they can complete an initial assessment and medical/psychological evaluations, both of which seem to be indicated here.

Your role is to protect your grandmother, not necessarily to ask her permission to help her, and your inquiry indicates a desperate cry for help. You and your mother have to be the adults in this situation and do what's in the best interest of your grandmother, even if it means making grandma very angry.

I wouldn't wait on this situation, as it is both unhealthy and unsafe, is certainly indicates that something is going on outside what was previously your grandmother's normal behavior.

Good luck.