Question: My grandmother has OCD with poor insight, hoarding newspapers and garbage. The flat is covered in mounds of garbage, dust and fungus. My grandmother is asthmatic and the situation is seriously hurting her health. We have been trying to convince her to let us clean her place, but she reacts to our attempts as though they are attacks on her kingdom. It seems too cruel to do anything without her consent, and she does not think there is a problem. Would it be wrong for me to notify her physician about this health problem?
Answer 1: It is reasonable to notify your grandmothers physician. However it is also reasonable to expect that he may not have a good understanding of the problem. The reaction to your suggestions about cleaning up is not unusual. Most hoarders will put up a big fight if you try to intervene that way. If you can get her to accept some help she may be able to make progress with cognitive behavioral treatment. Continued near the bottom of this page.
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Answer 2: You could notify her physician, but I’m not sure what the doctor can do about it. Your grandmother either does not feel she has a problem or is unwilling to acknowledge it. Unless your family determines that your grandmother is a serious and obvious threat to herself or others and decides to pursue formal guardianship, you cannot legally force her to clean her home. You are correct that she will probably be very upset if you attempt to do so without her consent. You can provide her with information about OCD and hoarding and the availability of treatment. You can also offer to help her get to therapy or to begin cleaning things up. Beyond that, no matter how painful it may be to see her in this situation, you may have to allow her to live the way she chooses. If this continues to be difficult for you, consider getting consultation regarding how to handle the situation.
Answer 3: I suppose you could contact her physician, but as long as your grandmother is deemed to be mentally competent and not an immediate danger to herself or others, there may not be much that anyone can do. Perhaps he might have some influence with her. Is there anyone whose opinion she respects or would seriously listen to, such as a clergyman or another relative? If you try to forcibly clean her apartment, she will probably become extremely anxious, angry, and depressed. She will also not have learned anything, and will most likely resume her previous behaviors. It is a sad fact that you cannot force a person to change. Even when they want to change, it is hard work. Probably, the only way someone could intervene would be the danger she may be posing to herself with regard to her asthma. Best regards.
Answer 4: Often unfortunately, people with OCD have very poor insight. As your grandmother gets older and it seems to seriously be affecting her health, it may not be cruel but in fact necessary to discuss this with her physician or have the entire family try to do an “intervention.” As long as you are discussing it with all members of the family arrive at a consensus then I believe you’d know that you’re doing the right thing rather than just being idiosyncratic and “torturing or being cruel.” There is no easy option her! Good luck!