Treasured lives deserve respect and understanding
New research from Anglicare Tasmania is calling for coordinated support for people who care for older Tasmanians living with challenges related to hoarding and/or maintaining a healthy home.
This will require investment in community education, resources and practical support services including family counselling.
The research by Anglicare’s Social Action and Research Centre (SARC) includes interviews with 25 people who support an older person living with these challenges.
The Treasured Lives research aligns with Anglicare’s commitment to enabling older Tasmanians to age well at home.
Researcher Lindsey Fidler said that as family members and carers reflected on the experiences and needs of their loved ones, they expressed feelings of isolation, frustration and anxiety—but also a high degree of empathy and compassion.
“Families I heard from overwhelmingly wanted their loved one to be able to remain living at home as they age, but worry about their social isolation, physical safety and ability of services to access their home to provide support. The stigma attached to hoarding behaviours often discourages those living with hoarding or their family members from reaching out for support, either to support their loved one to age well, or to support families themselves.
“People in these situations are more often judged than understood,” she said. “This leads families to further retreat from the communities in which they live and makes them reluctant to seek help.”
Lindsay said research participants had deep insight into the reasons behind their loved ones’ behaviour, which included trauma, being brought up not to waste things, and poor mental and physical health.
State-wide community education needed
The Treasured Lives research recommends a state-wide community education campaign to improve awareness and understanding and address stigma. It also calls for the establishment of regional taskforces to provide local support services and specialist counselling for family members and carers, and the development of an information portal/resource hub for families.
Research participant Siobhan has older family members with hoarding behaviours. She uses her art practice as personal therapy and to offer support to others. She says:
We need resources to be readily available here in Tasmania so that we can break down the stigma and shame that goes with it. In being a part of this research, I’ve become really hopeful that there will be more support soon and I’m looking forward to participating in peer support groups.
CEO of Mental Health Families and Friends Tasmania Maxine Griffiths said Tasmanians who support people living with hoarding behaviours often described feelings of helplessness about unhealthy and sometimes dangerous living conditions.
“Families and friends spend many hours worrying how to best hold onto the relationship they have with their loved one without pushing things too far too soon. Worrying causes stress, anxiety and sometimes more serious mental health concerns,” she said. “They talk about their own sense of isolation and that they have no-one to talk to about how their lives are being impacted.”
A second research report will be completed later this year, focusing on older people and the services that support them. Recommendations from both reports will be shared with government.
In the meantime, anyone with an interest in this topic is invited to sign up for a webinar that will be hosted by TasCOSS on Tuesday 25 May.
Would you like to learn more?
There is limited information available about the number of people affected by hoarding or challenges in maintaining a healthy home, but estimates are that between 4000—12,000 Tasmanians aged 50 or over are affected.
Hoarding and having challenges in maintaining a healthy home often go hand-in-hand, but this is not always the case.
An individual with hoarding behaviours typically has challenges with acquiring, sorting and discarding items. This leads to a cluttered home environment that may be unsafe. The person may have a diagnosed condition, or it may be linked to other mental health conditions.
Challenges in maintaining a healthy home
This is where the accumulation of rubbish, decomposing food, grime, dust and mould leads to an unsanitary home environment and rooms not being fit-for-purpose.