Question: “My mother was a hoarder, and I will soon need to book a house clearance company to clear the house. I have been highly motivated to keep clutter out of my own home. My son, however, is not as motivated and appears to have hoarding tendencies. Is it possible that early intervention treatment could help him avoid trouble with hoarding behaviors in the future?”
Answer: One of the things we are learning from our research is that for most people with compulsive hoarding, the problem starts very early. A recent survey of 751 people with hoarding problems, found that the majority reported an onset of hoarding behaviors prior to age 20. We don’t yet know how many young people stop hoarding on their own; however, it seems reasonable to conclude, at a minimum, that the roots of adult hoarding are frequently found in childhood or adolescence. Continued near the bottom of this page.
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Would early intervention help? Quite possibly. So far, treatment research has just focused on adults who have been hoarding for a long time, and to my knowledge, no one has systematically studied the effects of treatment on young people who hoard. But we have ample evidence from other psychiatric conditions, such as OCD, that kids and adults respond fairly similarly to various treatments. We also know from studies of conditions such as depression that a little bit of preventative treatment for young people who seem to be at risk can reduce the likelihood that the symptoms will worsen over time. One tricky issue raised by your question concerns your son’s level of motivation. Time and again, we find that you just can’t force someone into treatment and expect it to work. So you may need to be extra patient with him. Start by having a frank discussion of your concerns, but be sure not to let it turn into an argument. It might be that you have to “plant the seed” many times before he starts to acknowledge the problem, agrees that he needs to do something about it, and decides to allow others to help him.