Question: Are there health dangers for an elderly person living in a very filthy house? When should a relative intervene to protect the health of an elderly person?
Answer 1: It’s hard to give a definitive answer without knowing what is causing the “filth” — if there are rats, cockroaches, etc., that could certainly be a health threat. Another concern is whether it is filthy because there is so much clutter that the person may trip or fall and break something. Sometimes I have had calls from family members who tell me the person’s refrigerator is full of rotting food, or the furnace isn’t working and the person won’t let repair people into the house, etc. What are the circumstances that make it difficult for the person to clean the house? Continued near the bottom of this page.
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Answer 2: Certainly there are health risks associated in living in filth. This type of situation can arise as a result of hoarding which is usually associated with OCD but may also occur as part of other disorders. The decision about intervention is difficult. First of all it is unlikely to be effective unless the hoarder is actually taken out of their home and put into circumstances where accumulation of new hoards is not possible. Second the intervention is almost inevitably going to cause great distress for the hoarder and not be appreciated or accepted. In the final analysis you have to make a decision about the risks and benefits and act accordingly knowing that the hoarding individual may never forgive you.