APDO Jo Cooke Hoarding Disporders UK

International Hoarding Conference: “Hoarding, Health & Housing”


The International Hoarding Conference “Hoarding, Health & Housing” was organised by Life-Pod CIC and held in Edinburgh on 4th October 2018. APDO member, hoarding specialist and author Jo Cooke of Hoarding Disorders UK attended the conference, and reports on the event for APDO in this blog post.

Hoarding, Health & Housing

As I packed my bag with excitement to be attending my third hoarding conference this year, I ticked off my packing list which included “Stuff”, a wonderful book written by the great hoarding guru, Dr Randy Frost. As I was going to be meeting him, I wanted to make sure he signed my copy.  Some of us wish to meet film stars, famous footballers and musicians… but my wish is to meet the top hoarding specialists in the world.  Randy Frost sits right up there, and I was also looking forward to attending his masterclass the day after the conference.

The conference was a huge success, attended by representatives from housing, social care, environmental health, hoarding specialists, and of course a clutter of APDO members alongside those affected by hoarding behaviours.

WHO classification and our understanding of hoarding

Dr Stuart Whomsley, aka Dr Who, who attended our 2017 APDO conference spoke about how, on 18 June 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified hoarding as a mental health disorder in the New International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11)25. ICD-11 will be presented at the World Health Assembly in May 2019 for adoption by member states with the aim of coming into effect on 1 January 2022.

The key messages I took away from his presentation were that we need to work more to understand hoarding as a disorder, not to change it.  The positives of hoarding being a diagnosable condition are that it helps reduce stigma, provides clarity, people do not feel alone and that help can be provided. The negatives are the medicalisation of everything and the assumptions of a biological basis if not backed up by resources. If resources are not put behind hoarding, the situation can be made more helpless and hopeless.

Animal hoarding

Mike Flynn and Dr Randy Frost talked about animal hoarding.  It has been recognised that those who hoard animals are usually females in their mid-50s who are single and socially isolated. They mainly hoard cats and dogs and typically hoard 30 to 40 animals, sometimes more. Typical animal hoarders include overwhelmed caregivers, rescuers or those driven by a mission and exploiters.  Findings from interviews suggest that those who hoard animals have human relationship issues, including early attachment problems, chaotic childhoods, they can be shy and socially awkward and their current relationships are dysfunctional.

“Hoarding is collecting life, not living it”

Randy Frost’s key messages included putting the voice of the hoarder first. Randy also talked about research which concludes that hoarding can be triggered by childhood issues and a “lack of warmth” in a person’s family. Loneliness, social isolation and a lack of connection with people also contribute greatly to those with hoarding issues.  Some of the vulnerabilities of hoarders are genetic, emotional dysregulation, perfectionism, poor health or disability and a history of loss or trauma.  Randy also discussed the emotional attachments people have to their possessions which include beauty/aesthetics, history, memory and sentimental as well as identity, safety and comfort.  I love his quote: “Hoarding is collecting life not living it.”

Other talks included the vital part played by motivational interviewing as a technique for engaging with those affected by hoarding behaviours.  The other important messages I took away were that the voice of the person who hoards is key and we know what we know and what we don’t know.

My colleagues and I left the conference and the next day’s workshop feeling invigorated, inspired and better equipped to deal with the challenges that hoarding situations present.

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