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Format: 04/24/2014
Format: 04/24/2014


WTAE-TV: Hoarding Illness Can Devastate Families

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

PITTSBURGH -- Everyone saves mementos of what's important to them -- a child's first birthday card, a Super Bowl ticket stub -- but when does an attachment to items cross the line into hoarding?

Hoarding is a mental illness -- a subset of obsessive compulsive disorder. New research indicates it may effect as many as 5 percent of all Americans.

Elaine Wagner is a hoarder, and she told Channel 4 Action News anchor Sally Wiggin that she loves watching the "Hoarders" reality show on television.

"It reminds me of where I was, and I got to keep doing it or I can get like that again," Wagner said. "It started when my kids were little, growing up. They couldn't bring their friends home. It got worse and worse when they left -- the empty nest thing."

Hoarding is inherited and begins in childhood, said Dr. Robert Hudak, a psychiatrist with UPMC.

"Early adolescence is when hoarding starts, and it doesn't become a severe problem at that point, because if you are a child or teenager, your parents can force you to clean up your room," Hudak said.

Often, hoarding can be triggered by extreme loss or deprivation. The impact on families can be devastating.

"Very, very hard for them to understand," therapist Adele Maher said. "It is shame and guilt, and terrible depression comes with it, so that exacerbates the situation."

Maher runs a therapy group for hoarding that meets twice a month in the North Hills. The phone number is 412-915-0097. Wagner is one of her star members.

"I have actually gone to somebody's house and helped them de-clutter," Wagner said. "I didn't know what I was doing. I just wanted to help her. Yes, I did, and it was awesome."

Before helping someone, make sure a therapist is involved.

"With patients with hoarding, families may feel like they are helping them by throwing things out. That can make the hoarders more emotional. More of a connection to their items, more stressed -- it can backfire," said Dr. Alicia Kaplan, a psychiatrist at Allegheny General Hospital.

To read more, visit the WTAE website.

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